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It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding.
The Tasmanian devil's large head and neck allow it to generate among the strongest bites per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator, and it hunts prey and scavenges carrion as well as eating household products if humans are living nearby.
The young become independent after around nine months, so the female spends most of her year in activities related to birth and rearing.
Since the late 1990s, the devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) has drastically reduced the devil population and now threatens the survival of the species, which in 2008 was declared to be endangered.
Related names that were used in the 19th century were Sarcophilus satanicus ("Satanic meatlover") and Diabolus ursinus ("bear devil"), all due to early misconceptions of the devil as implacably vicious.
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) belongs to the family Dasyuridae. The relationships between the three species are not clear.
While the thylacine was extant it preyed on the devil, which targeted young and unattended thylacine cubs in their dens.
According to Pemberton, the possible ancestors of the devil may have needed to climb trees to acquire food, leading to a growth in size and the hopping gait of many marsupials.
He speculated that these adaptations may have caused the contemporary devil's peculiar gait.
Because they were seen as a threat to livestock and animals that humans hunted for fur in Tasmania, devils were hunted and became endangered.
In 1941, the devils, which were originally seen as implacably vicious, became officially protected.