Dastardly devils – be careful who you bite

As though Tasmanian devils don’t have enough to worry about with their image problem, the population is threatened with extinction by an unusual form of cancer – an aggressive, infectious cancer that leads to ulcerated tumours in wounds and death within a year of infection.

Research on disease transmission and extent of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is relatively new – the first tumours were noted in 1996 – but it’s a definite threat to this unique species.

Exciting new work from Hamede and colleagues, published this week in Journal of Animal Ecology, suggests that transmission is more likely to be from the bitten to the biter, with aggressive animals infecting themselves as they bite. Animals with high numbers of bites on the head and body were actually less likely to have DFTD, suggesting that being bitten is not necessarily risky: biting another devil, and its infected sores, is the dangerous step.

For more details, go to the paper or a nicely written press release from the journal. For more on Sarcophilus harrisii, there’s always EoL

Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

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