In the last 2 decades, some 85% of wild Tasmanian Devils have been wiped out. The primary cause isn't poachers or habitat destruction, but a bizarre kind of *contagious* cancer. "A recent epidemic disease, known as devil facial tumour disease, has brought an extremely rare, but equally devastating, set of circumstances together to threaten the devil population. Facial tumour disease, unlike every form of cancer known to affect humans, is transferred directly from devil to devil when they bite each other, which is 'something they do a lot during feeding or mating.'”

17 Responses to “Cancer threatens Tasmanian Devils with extinction by "devil facial tumour disease"”

  1. Tony Gracyk says: 

    Radiolab did an episode on this a while back that is very interesting b/c it starts to hone in on the question of what constitutes life.

  2. Frank Diekman says:

    New band name: “devil facial tumour disease”

  3. Abie says:

    On the subject, I recommand this excellent feature article od Harper’s:”The Evolution of a killer” by David Quammen

    He ever gives a few rare and terrifying examples of cancer transmission in humans:

  4. Jil Wrinkle says:

    Why can’t people who write about Tasmanian Devils put up an actual photo of a Tasmanian Devil instead of the cartoon character?

  5. shana logic! says:

    I’m actually a sponsor for and they are working super hard on preventing this disease – they have an entire island where they are breeding healthy devils! Check it out:-)

  6. wysinwyg says:

    This is happening because Tasmanian devils are so crazy inbred they have basically the same immune system AND because they bite each others faces as a form of flirting.  Much like pandas and koalas*, I think these guys were already dead-ending long before human beings started the eighth great extinction.

    *Yeah, they’re cute — but neither species is cut out for long-term survival.  Deal with it.

    • waetherman says:

      This will teach them to stop biting each other. Darwin-style.

    • Jerril says:

       Devils genetic diversity wasn’t hot, but the last big great chokepoint was caused by humans, and was VERY recent. This means in turn that there hasn’t been much genetic drift/mutation since the chokepoint, so they’re still great mutual transplant candidates…

      They weren’t great, but we SHOVED them, we didn’t just give them a poke.

    • SomeGuyNamedMark says:

      “but neither species is cut out for long-term survival.  Deal with it.”

      Same thing was said about some groups of people during WWII

  7. mister stick says:

    er, hpv?

  8. humanresource says:

    If you care, donate to protect the last forest in Tasmania where the devils remain unaffected. Currently, only 5% of the Tarkine Wilderness is listed as a national park, and both major parties want to put in new mines, logging roads and all the rest. 

    • Travelling in Tasmania recently I got the impression that their forests have a bad case of male pattern baldness. From the road you may think there is forest everywhere but then you start to see empty spots only a hundred metres into the forest or so. In fact a lot of it has been harvested.

  9. at some point, that cancer is going to hit a compatible target, and the female that started the whole mess is going to be reconstituted… mission accomplished, at that point?

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