Sunday, August 5, 2012

thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

Welcome to The Thylacine Museum, an online educational guide to the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger.  Here you will find information covering virtually all aspects of the natural history of this unique Australian marsupial.

 The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) is the only species of the marsupial family Thylacinidae to have existed within historical times.  It is often referred to as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, but being a marsupial, it is neither a tiger or a wolf in any true sense.  It is, however, an excellent example of convergent evolution.  This is the process by which rather distantly related species independently acquire similar characteristics while evolving in separate and sometimes varying ecosystems.  This occurs as a result of adaptation to similar environments and ways of life.  The thylacine's body shape approximately resembles that of the placental wolf because it is a cursorial predator which occupies a similar ecological niche.  Apart from the notable differences in dentition, even the thylacine's skull structure superficially parallels that of a canid.

 The last survivor of a very ancient and once diverse family of carnivorous marsupials, the thylacine is a truly amazing and beautiful mammal.  Sadly, it is the victim of one of man's most atrocious acts of destruction toward the fauna of Australia.  Out of misunderstanding, irrational fear and simply because it was perceived as a threat to economic interests, a genocidal assault was waged against the species.  Thus, thousands of thylacines were destroyed by man during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  By the time that this action was seen as the horrible tragedy that it truly was, the thylacine had been persecuted nearly to extinction.

 The thylacine has always been one of my specialized areas of study and research, and through this virtual museum, I hope to promote a greater awareness of this most remarkable marsupial.  Click on any of the topic listings shown below to begin your tour of the museum.  If you are new to the site however, I suggest that you start at the first of the six sections - "Introducing the Thylacine".  Clicking on a section's title image will take you to its introductory page.

The Australian continent is home to over one million species of animals, many of them unique, and many of them endangered. While we know of many extinct animals, There is one example which reminds us that life is fragile, and that extinct means forever, We're talking of course, about the Tasmanian tiger, or Thylacine, a marsupial carnivore which was wiped out of existence in the early 1930s.

The Thylacine, like other marsupials, had a pouch in which it carried its young. Although it was a distant relative of the Opossum, it also had canine and feline features and is also related to the Tasmanian Devil.  Other names for the Thylacine include: Dog Faced Dasyurus, Kangaroo wolf, Pouched wolf, Zebra wolf, Hyena wolf, and Wolf or Hyena Opossum.

The Thylacine fed on smaller animals, and did most of its hunting at dusk.  Even though it had powerful jaws which could rip apart flesh and bone, this animal was no match against the increasing Dingo population that had been brought in by the Aborigines, so they were forced off the Mainland and ultimately wound up on the Island of Tasmania.

Farmers who lived on the island did not appreciate the introduction of this new predator which posed a threat to their livestock, so a bounty was put on the animals, leading to the near extermination of the species.

Although the Thylacine was now virtually extinct, It remained an enemy in the eyes of the settlers, who continued exterminating the animal until 1933.  It wasn't until three years later that the Thylacine was declared an endangered species, but by then it was too late, the Thylacine was virtually extinct.

Since then, there have been thousands of reported sightings of the Thylacine, but there never is enough conclusive evidence to prove the possible existence of a Thylacine population.

No comments: