Sarcophilus laniarius

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Sarcophilus laniarius
Temporal range: Late Pleistocene
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family: Dasyuridae
Genus: Sarcophilus
Species: S. laniarius
Binomial name
Sarcophilus laniarius
(Owen, 1838)
  • Dasyurus laniarus

Sarcophilus laniarius is an extinct species of large Tasmanian devil. Richard Owen originally called the specimen on which the genus was based Dasyurus laniarus.[1]

Pleistocene fossil deposits in limestone caves at Naracoorte, South Australia include specimens of S. laniarius, which were around 15% larger and 50% heavier than modern devils.[2] Older specimens believed to be 50–70,000 years old were found in Darling Downs in Queensland and in Western Australia.[3] It is not clear whether the modern devil evolved from S. laniarius, or whether they coexisted at the time.[3] Richard Owen argued for the latter hypothesis in the 19th century based on fossils found in 1877 in New South Wales.[3] It has been conjectured that S. laniarius and S. moornaensis, another now-extinct larger species, may have hunted and scavenged.[3] It is known that there were several genera and species of thylacine millions of years ago, and that they ranged in size, the smaller being more reliant on foraging.[4] As the devil and thylacine are similar, the extinction of the co-existing thylacine species has been cited as evidence for an analogous history for the devils.[5] It has been speculated that the smaller size of S. laniarius and S. moornaensis allowed them to adapt to the changing conditions more effectively and survive longer than the corresponding thylacines.[5]

As the extinction of these two species came at a similar time to human habitation of Australia, hunting by humans, as well as land clearing have been mooted as possible causes.[6] Critics of this theory point out that as indigenous Australians only developed boomerangs and spears for hunting around 10,000 years ago, a critical fall in numbers due to systemic hunting is unlikely. They also point out that caves inhabited by Aborigines have a low proportion of bones and rock paintings of devils, and that this is an indication that it was not a large part of indigenous lifestyle. A scientific report in 1910 claimed that Aborigines preferred the meat of herbivores rather than carnivores.[7] The other main theory for the extinction was due to the climate change brought on by the most recent ice age.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Owen and Pemberton, p. 35.
  3. ^ a b c d Owen and Pemberton, p. 36.
  4. ^ Owen and Pemberton, p. 37.
  5. ^ a b Owen and Pemberton, p. 38.
  6. ^ a b Owen and Pemberton, p. 39.
  7. ^ Owen and Pemberton, pp. 40–42.