The marsupial wolf (Tasmanian wolf, tilacin) (Thylacinus cynocephalus) is an extinct mammal, the only member of the tilacin family.
Until its extinction, the Tasmanian wolves were the largest of the modern marsupial predators. At the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene, tylacines were widely distributed in Australia and New Guinea, but in historical times these animals were found only in Tasmania.
Externally, the marsupial wolf looks like a large dog with stripes on its back. The height at the withers of this animal was about 60 cm, it weighed 15-35 kg. He had an elongated body, a dog-like head, a short neck, a sloping back, relatively short legs. Tilacin differed from the dog by a long (up to 50 cm) straight tail, thick at the base, and colored from black or brown stripes on a sandy-yellow back. It is noteworthy that the Tasmanian wolf could yawn like a crocodile, opening its mouth almost 120 degrees.
Marsupial wolves were active in the dark. During the day, they rested in hilly terrain in the forest, and at night they went hunting in the meadows and woods. In general, most of the information about the behavior of tilacins is in the nature of tales. They ran amble, could sit on their hind limbs and tail, like a kangaroo, easily jumped 2-3 meters ahead. Tasmanian wolves hunted alone or in pairs, and before settling Tasmania, Europeans fed on possums, wallabies, bandicoot, rodents, birds and insects. If the marsupial wolf was very hungry, it could even attack a snake without fear of its sharp needles.
In Tasmania, marsupial wolves were widespread and numerous in those places where settlements were adjacent to a dense forest. However, in the 1930s, the mass extermination of this beast began. From the very first days of the introduction of Europeans, tilacin had a reputation for being a killer of sheep; it was considered an incredibly ferocious and bloodthirsty beast. He caused a lot of trouble and loss to farmers, as he constantly visited herds and ravaged poultry houses. The hunt began on him, encouraged by local authorities: in 1830, a prize was established for a dead beast. As a result of uncontrolled shooting to the beginning of the 70s of the XIX century, marsupial wolves were preserved only in remote mountainous and forest areas of Tasmania. Despite this, in 1888 the local government introduced its own system of awards, and in 21 years 2268 animals were officially killed. In the end, along with the hunt for tilacin, an epidemic of dog plague, brought by imported dogs, led to the disappearance of tilacin.
The last marsupial wolf was caught in western Tasmania in 1933 and died at Hobart Zoo in 1936.
In 1999, the Australian Museum in Sydney made an attempt to clone a Tasmanian wolf using the puppy's DNA, which was alcoholized in 1866. But it turned out that in order to successfully implement this project, it is necessary to make significant progress in the field of biotechnology.
Although marsupial wolves have long been considered extinct animals, from time to time there are reports of the existence of separate individuals in remote corners of Tasmania.
Appearance of the marsupial wolf
The body length of this animal did not exceed 130 centimeters, and the tail was 65 centimeters in length.
The marsupial tigers had a soft and curly coat. The fur color was grayish, with black or yellow stripes. Males were slightly darker than females.
These wolves belonged to a large family of carnivorous marsupials. Meskopes was the largest representative of the species. The exterior of the Tasmanian wolf combined the features of several animals. Most of all he looked like a domestic dog, but when attacking the enemy, he could jump high on his hind legs, like a kangaroo, and besides, he had a bag on his belly that opened backwards.
Marsupial wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus).
Tasmanian Wolves Lifestyle
These animals originally inhabited grassy plains and sparse forests, but people drove them into mountainous areas. They took refuge in caves and under the roots of trees. Although these wolves were nocturnal, they could be met by basking in the sun. Most often, they lived alone, but sometimes during hunting they gathered in small groups.
They ate large and medium vertebrates: echidnas, lizards, birds. They also attacked livestock. There are different versions of hunting tactics. A marsupial wolf could lay in wait for the victim in the shelter or leisurely pursue her until she loses her strength. If the wolf left the prey undernourished, he never returned to it again.
Tasmanian wolves were caught and locked up in cages.
During the hunt, the tylacines made a throaty, dull barking. These predators did not attack people, but, on the contrary, avoided meeting with them. Young people, people tamed.
Breeding marsupial wolves
As noted, these animals were marsupials. On the belly of the females there were folds of skin that formed the bags. In such a bag mother was carrying babies. These animals did not have a definite breeding period, but the young were mainly born in December-March. The gestation period was only 35 days.
They say that these wolves were very aggressive, so they were mass shot off.
One female brought 2-4 underdeveloped babies, which continued to develop in the bag for about 3 months. Mother they did not leave until 9 months. In captivity, the Tasmanian wolves did not breed and lived for no more than 8 years.
About the incredible aggression of these wolves were legends, so people massively caught and shot them. By 1863, these animals were found only in mountain areas difficult to access. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a catastrophe occurred - some kind of disease broke out, most likely it was a canine plague, and by 1928 so many marsupial wolves had died that they were assigned to a protected species. The last wild animal was killed in 1930, and in 1936 a wolf died in a private zoo.
As a result of uncontrolled shooting and trapping, by 1863, marsupial wolves survived only in remote mountain and forest areas of Tasmania.
People assumed that these animals were still alive in the twentieth century, they just hid in the impassable forests of the southwestern part of Australia. But a careful study of their habitats, it became clear that marsupial wolves are an extinct species.
Description and appearance
An extinct predator has three names - the marsupial wolf, tilacin (from the Latin. Thylacinus cynocephalus) and the Tasmanian wolf. He owes his last nickname to the Dutchman Abel Tasman: he was the first to see a strange marsupial mammal in 1642. It happened on the island, which the navigator himself called Vandenimenova land. Later it was renamed Tasmania.
Tasman confined himself to stating a meeting with tilacin, a detailed description of which was already given in 1808 by the naturalist Jonathan Harris. "Dog of mouth" - this is how the generic name Thylacinus, given to the marsupial wolf, is translated. He was considered the largest of the marsupial predators, standing out against their background anatomy and body size. The wolf weighed 20–25 kg with a height at the withers of 60 cm, the body length was 1–1.3 m (taking into account the tail, from 1.5 to 1.8 m).
The colonists disagreed on how to call an unusual creature, styling it alternately a zebra wolf, a tiger, a dog, a tiger cat, a hyena, a zebra possum, or simply a wolf. The discrepancies were quite explicable: the exterior and habits of the predator combined the features of different animals.
It is interesting! His skull looked like a dog’s, but the outstretched mouth opened so that the upper and lower jaws turned into an almost straight line. This trick does not do any dog in the world.
In addition, tilatsin exceeded the average dog and in its dimensions. With dogs, his relatives and the sounds that tilatsin made in an excited state: they very much resembled a guttural dog barking, both deaf and shrill.
It was quite possible to call him a tiger kangaroo due to the arrangement of its hind limbs, which allowed the marsupial wolf to push off (like a typical kangaroo) with its heels.
Tilatsin was not inferior to cats in the ability to climb trees, and the stripes on his skin were extremely reminiscent of tiger color. On the sandy background of the back, base of the tail and hind legs were located 12-19 dark brown stripes.
Where lived the marsupial wolf
About 30 million years ago, tilacin lived not only in Australia and Tasmania, but also in South America and, presumably, in Antarctica. In South America, marsupial wolves (caused by foxes and coyotes) disappeared 7-8 million years ago, in Australia - about 3-1,5 thousand years ago. Tilacin left mainland Australia and the island of New Guinea because of dingo dogs imported from Southeast Asia.
Tasmanian wolf entrenched on the island of Tasmania, where they did not interfere with the dingo (there were none). The predator felt well here until the 30s of the nineteenth century, when he was declared the main fighter of farm sheep and began to be massively destroyed. For the head of each marsupial wolf to the hunter from the authorities were due bonus (£ 5).
It is interesting! After many years, examining the skeleton of tilacin, scientists came to the conclusion that it is impossible to accuse him of killing sheep: his jaws are too weak to cope with such large prey.
Anyway, because of the people, the Tasmanian wolf was forced to leave its habitat (grassy plains and woods), moving to dense forests and mountains. Here he found refuge in hollows of fallen trees, in rocky crevices and in holes under the roots of trees.
Tasmanian Wolf Lifestyle
As it turned out much later, the bloodthirstiness and ferocity of the marsupial wolf were greatly exaggerated. The beast preferred to live alone, only occasionally adjoining to the companies of relatives to participate in the hunt. He was very active at night, but at noon he liked to expose his sides to the sun's rays in order to warm up.
In the afternoon, tilatsin sat in a shelter and went hunting only at night: eyewitnesses said that predators were found sleeping in hollows located from the ground at a height of 4-5 meters.
Biologists have calculated that the breeding season of mature individuals, most likely, began in December and February, since the offspring appeared closer to spring. The wolf hatched the future puppies for a short time, about 35 days, giving birth to 2-4 underdeveloped cubs that crawled out of the mother's bag 2.5-3 months later.
It is interesting! The Tasmanian wolf could live in captivity, but did not breed in it. The average lifespan of tilacin under artificial conditions was estimated at 8 years.
The bag where the puppies were located was a large abdominal pocket formed by a leathery fold. The reservoir opened back: this trick prevented the grass, foliage and cutting stems from getting inside when the she-wolf ran. Leaving the mother's bag, the cubs did not leave their mother until they were 9 months old.
Food, prey of the marsupial wolf
The predator often included in its menu of animals who could not get out of the traps. He didn’t shun poultry, which were displaced in large numbers by settlers.
But terrestrial vertebrates (medium and small) prevailed in its diet, such as:
- medium-sized marsupials, including woody kangaroos,
Tilatsin disdained carrion, preferring live prey. The neglect of carrion was also expressed in the fact that, after otpepeznichav, Tasmanian wolf threw an uneaten sacrifice (than used, for example, marsupial marten). By the way, tilacins more than once demonstrated their fastidiousness towards freshness in zoos, refusing to defrost meat.
Until now, biologists argue about how the predator was getting food. Some say that tilatsin attacked the ambush victim and ate the base of her skull (like a cat's). Proponents of this theory claim that the wolf ran badly, occasionally jumping on its hind legs and maintaining its balance with a powerful tail.
Their opponents are convinced that the Tasmanian wolves did not sit in wait and did not frighten the prey by their sudden appearance. These researchers believe that tilacin methodically, but stubbornly pursued the victim, until she ran out of power.
Over the years, information about the natural enemies of the Tasmanian wolf has been lost. Indirect enemies can be considered predatory placental mammals (much more prolific and adapted to life), which gradually “banished” tilacins from inhabited territories.
It is interesting! The young Tasmanian wolf could easily beat a pack of dogs that were larger than him. The marsupial wolf was helped by its tremendous maneuverability, excellent reaction and the ability to deliver a fatal blow in a jump.
From the first minutes of birth, the offspring of carnivorous mammals is more developed than the cubs of marsupials. The latter are born “premature”, and the infant mortality rate among them is much higher. It is not surprising that the number of marsupials is growing extremely slowly. And at one time, the tilacins simply could not stand the competition with placental mammals, such as foxes, coyotes and dingo dogs.
Population and species status
Predators began to die out en masse at the beginning of the last century, having become infected with dog plague from domestic dogs brought to Tasmania, and by 1914 units of surviving marsupial wolves were wandering around the island.
In 1928, the authorities, adopting a law on the protection of animals, did not consider it necessary to include the Tasmanian wolf in the register of endangered species, and in the spring of 1930 the last wild tilacin was killed on the island. And in the fall of 1936, the world also abandoned the last marsupial wolf, who lived in captivity. Benji predator was the property of the zoo, located in Hobart (Australia).
It is interesting! Since March 2005, the reward is 1.25 million Australian dollars. This amount (promised by the Australian magazine The Bulletin) will be paid to the one who catches and gives the world a live marsupial wolf.
It is still unclear what motives Australian officials were guided by, adopting a document prohibiting hunting Tasmanian wolves, 2 (!) Years after the death of the last representative of the species. No less ridiculous is the creation in 1966 of a special island reserve (covering 647,000 hectares), intended for the breeding of a nonexistent marsupial wolf.