The thylacine's smaller
prey species (potoroo, bettong, placental mice, small dasyurids, bandicoots,
lizards and birds) are good sprinters and are likely to be the main prey
of the smaller, but more agile, females. The "big game", such as
kangaroo, wombat, and the Red-necked wallaby could only be overwhelmed
by the larger, stronger, but not quite so
agile males. This sharing of available prey resources had two distinct
advantages; a wider selection of animals could be hunted by one species
with two specialised sexual partners, and in periods when prey resources
were scarce, a high percentage of the population could avoid intraspecific
A thylacine aggressively
pulling on a piece of meat. Beaumaris Zoo (SB), 1911.
Harrison, Tasmania's principle wildlife dealer,
made the following comment relating to the power of the thylacine's bite
in the Advocate newspaper of the 21st May 1919 (p. 3):
"It has a very powerful
jaw, and I have seen one, with three snaps of the jaw, devour the head
of a full-grown wallaby".
The Launceston Examiner
of the 14th March 1868 (p. 5) states with reference to the thylacine's
bite: "The hyena (Thylacine) has immensely powerful teeth and
equally strong jaws, enabling him to break almost any bone with perfect
Recent research (2005)
bite force by Wroe, McHenry, and Thomason ("Bite club: comparative bite
force in big biting mammals and the prediction of predatory behaviour in
fossil taxa") published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society,
seems to place the thylacine in a similar niche to the larger canids such
as wolves and hunting dogs, rather than smaller canids such as the fox
bite force quotient (BFQ) of the thylacine against four canid species of
Source: after Wroe et al.
| Predator body mass
has been shown to correlate with maximum prey size in mammals (Meers 2002).
Wroe's paper demonstrates that the bite force quotient (BFQ) is highest
in carnivores that prey on animals larger than themselves, such as the
wolf, Cape hunting dog and dingo, and lowest in the solitary, more omnivorous
carnivores such as the fox and jackal. The ability to bring down
large animals is related to cooperative hunting, but is also reflected
in a higher bite force quotient. The bite force quotient of the thylacine
places it firmly with the larger canids that are known to cooperate in
their hunting behaviour to bring down larger animals than themselves.
The thylacine is mainly
a solitary nocturnal hunter, relentlessly pursuing its prey by stealth
until the prey is too exhausted to escape, and therefore easier to dispatch
(Beresford & Bailey / Guiler). However,
the high canine bite force quotient seems
to imply that when thylacines hunt in pairs or family groups (parents and
pups) they are able to take down the largest of prey species.
Film stills of a thylacine
feeding at the London Zoo. Courtesy: Zoological Society of London.
Wroe's research into
canine bite force, and the few surviving historical observations of thylacine
hunting behaviour, seem to infer that the thylacine crosses the boundary
between that of a solitary and pack hunter. The thylacine functions
like a fox or jackal when hunting small prey, and when hunting collectively
in a family unit, more like a wolf to bring down larger prey.
In an article entitled
Tasmania" that appeared in the Mercury newspaper of the 10th May 1884
(p. 2), mention is made of the character of the thylacine's bite:
"The bite is not
like that of a bull dog, which takes hold and sticks, but rather of the
or jackal, a series of snaps".
William George Fitzgerald
(1876-1965), a prospector, made the following comments on the thylacine's
bite (Fitzgerald 2011):
"The tiger also has
a strong jaw and set of teeth, but he snaps and takes the piece clean".
Reference to the thylacine
consuming bones is given by Elias Churchill, the captor of the last known
captive thylacine, in an interview with Michael Sharland published in the
of the 3rd April 1957 (pp. 25-26):
"When Churchill had it confined it refused to eat and, believing it might
fret and die, Churchill had to work out some way of getting it to take
food. It ignored dead or living wallaby, but ultimately it was persuaded
to eat by having the smell of blood from a freshly killed wallaby put beneath
its nose". (Churchill): 'And when it did begin, it didn't
stop till everything, including bones, was gone. I knew it
was alright then'.
Thylacines prefer live
prey, but are known to scavenge when food is scarce. Ronald
Gunn (1863), in a letter to the Zoological Society of London dated January
19th 1863 notes:
will eat only what they kill, and that fresh; so that after killing a sheep
they never (or very rarely) return to the dead carcass, but kill another.
Hence it has been found impossible to kill them by means of strychnine
and other poisons, as has been desired by our sheep owners. In confinement,
however, I have found them to eat the meat furnished to them with avidity".
cites the recollections of a Mr. Dunbabin of Bream Creek, whose father
caught thylacines at his property Marchwiel:
"They were hard to
poison because, after making a kill, they would have one good meal and
never return to the carcase".