Curious Creatures of Tasmania’s Wilderness
BY DAY, the wilderness is tranquil and quiet. But at night, spine-chilling growls and screams echo through the forest. The source of the screeching? A feisty marsupial with an unfortunate name—the Tasmanian devil. These sturdy animals can look and sound incredibly fierce, especially when dining on a carcass. Yet their rowdy bickering is mostly bluff.
These devils can clear the forest of carrion with amazing speed. Their powerful jaws and teeth can devour almost any carcass—skin, bones, and all. In fact, a devil can eat up to 40 percent of its body weight in half an hour—a feat comparable to a human devouring a 55-pound (25 kg) steak at one sitting!
Far more endearing is the gentle common wombat, a stocky animal with a cuddly appearance. Like all marsupials, female wombats have pouches and suckle their young. Yet, unlike their relatives’ pouches, those of the wombat face backward, doubtless to keep baby clean while mother scoops out their burrows. Wombats also have teeth that never stop growing—a boon for them, since they use their teeth to gnaw through underground obstacles. Despite their ponderous appearance, common wombats are surprisingly dexterous and can delicately pick up vegetation with their front feet and place it in their mouth.
Another strange creature is the platypus. This odd-looking creature has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, a body and fur like an otter, and a tail like a beaver. It lays eggs like a chicken, burrows like a wombat, and suckles its young like a mother bear. Little wonder that the first scientist to examine one suspected that it was a hoax!
Why do such encounters delight us so? Surely it is because our Creator wants them to. The Bible reveals that he told the first human couple to “have in subjection . . . every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) When we observe such animals in the wild, does it not stimulate our desire to live up to that assignment?
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IN THE SHADOW OF GIANTS
When it comes to size, few living things are as impressive as Tasmania’s big trees. The tallest are the mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans), flowering plants that typically grow to about 250 feet (75 m). The tallest living specimen is 326.8 feet (99.6 m) in height, just 52.5 feet (16 m) shorter than the world’s tallest tree, a redwood in California, U.S.A.
Another wilderness native, the Huon pine, is only half the size of the average mountain ash, but it can live up to six times longer. Some scientists estimate that Huon pines can live for over 3,000 years, making them one of the longest-living trees on earth. This “prince” of Tasmanian timber is highly prized by furniture makers and boat builders. Its creamy yellow wood is easy to work with and contains an essential oil that is a natural preservative and insect repellent. Some logs salvaged from forest floors are still usable after lying there for hundreds of years.
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© J & C Sohns/age fotostock
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Wombat and platypus: Tourism Tasmania; giant tree: Tourism Tasmania and George Apostolidis