Fantastic Beasts & where to… 4 27

The Thylacine*

Thylacine (Cryptic Images)

The Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger was not a tiger but the largest surviving marsupial predator in modern Australia, and its outlying islands of Tasmania and New Guinea.

It was called a ‘tiger’ because it had stripes across its lower back which faded with age. It was also called the Tasmanian Wolf, which seems a more likely description given its looks. It does superficially resemble a dingo, being much the same size and colouring. The dingo is a domestic dog (sub-species of the Grey Wolf) introduced to Australia some 40,000 years ago by the people now considered the aboriginal (as in original) settlers.

Thylacine & dingo Comparison (Brown University)

Thylacine skulls were used once used in comparative anatomy examinations because they are virtually indistinguishable from a wolf. This is an example of convergent evolution where two unrelated animals with similar lifestyles closely resemble each other. In truth Thylacines could not be more unrelated to dingoes and wolves as they are marsupials, like the majority of native Australian mammals. The Thylacines closest living relative is the Tasmanian Devil.

Comparison of Wolf and Thylacine skulls (from Wikipedia)

Around 170 million years ago, during the dinosaur dominated Jurassic, primitive mammals diverged into placental and marsupial. It was once believed placental mammals had an advanced reproduction system and we out competed marsupials. These days both methods are considered equally effective. Extinction is often a matter of environmental change and bad luck.

Placentals are us, dogs, cats, sheep, cows, elephants, whales: almost everything in fact. The females have specialised wombs allowing them to extend pregnancy until the foetus is almost fully developed. We placentals evolved in China and spread through the rest of the world where marsupials became extinct, leaving us dominant.

Marsupials have pouches (think kangaroo). They give birth to tiny underdeveloped offspring that scramble slug-like through their mother’s fur into her pouch where they lock on to a nipple until developed. Marsupials evolved in North America before finding their way to the southern landmass of South America, Antarctica and Australia (by this time Africa had already broken away).

Paleocene world (from earth before the flood)

Three million years ago, when North and South America collided, placental mammals moved south and possums moved into North America where they had gone extinct some 50 million years before. When Antarctica and Australia separated marsupials were left isolated, giving rise to some extraordinary animals such as the thylacine (‘marsupial wolf’) and thylacoleo (‘marsupial lion’).

Thylacoleo (marsupial lion) with Diprotodon (giant wombat relative) from Wikipedia

Along with other large animals in Australia their extinction coincides with humans arriving. Although it is now believed climate change played a decisive role.

Thylacine survived on Tasmania until modern times. Like their cousins the Tasmanian Devil, they were considered a threat to farm animals. On scant evidence, the Tasmanian government gave a bounty of roughly £100+ (in today’s value) per head and half that for pups. Records show they paid out 2,184 bounties, but many more thylacines may have been killed. Erosion of habitat and new diseases also played a part.


By the 1920s the animal was very rare. Yet the government prevaricated over giving them protected status. In 1930 the last wild thylacine (a male) was shot by a farmer who had seen it prowling around his home for a few weeks. A few remained in zoos but over the next few years they all died out.

A few months after the government finally declared them a protected species, early in July, the last thylacine in captivity died in Hobart Zoo, possibly of neglect, in September 1936.

That is your fantastic beast.

So, where to find them?

Sadly, nowhere outside stuffed specimens in museums.

Despite reported sightings and some ambiguous photographs it has not been demonstrated they are not extinct. There have been attempts to recover DNA from remains but so far it has been too badly damaged to be useful. However the genetic resurrection of the thylacine does remain an Australian Holy Grail.


* Acknowledgements

I have always been a fan of Australian endemic fauna: both extant and extinct.

I am grateful to the following people who inspired me to get off my bum. Great teamwork guys

Sally Cronin’ Smorgasbord for publicising the following

Norah Colvin for her great interview with children’s author

Aleesah Darlinson for writing– Stripes in the Forest: the Story of the last wild thylacine

See also:


Fantastic Beasts 1

Fantastic Beasts 2

Fantastic Beasts 3

27 thoughts on “Fantastic Beasts & where to… 4

  1. Reply KathrinS Aug 29,2017 7:35 pm

    How interesting, thanks for sharing. The Thylacine really is fascinating. Love how young ones have stripes and they fade with time – it’s a bit like the Lippizaner horses, who are born almost black and then slowly turn white as they grow mature.

    Kathrin —

    • Reply Paul Aug 29,2017 11:13 pm

      Kathrin. Thanks for the info about Lippizaner horses I never knew that. Are they the horses used in the Spanish riding school of Vienna?

      • Reply KathrinS Aug 30,2017 5:22 am

        Yes they are! I went to see them in Vienna a few weeks ago. (There’s a post on the trip on my blog, with a pic of the horses if you’re interested.) 99% of Lippizaner turn white, only 1 in 100 stays dark grey all its life.

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – Fantastic Beasts Four – The Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) by Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Reply Shehanne Moore Aug 28,2017 11:08 am

    A wonderful article and a beautiful animal. Terrible it is no more x

    • Reply Paul Aug 29,2017 12:09 am

      Shey, It is heartbreaking isn’t it. We are looking so much. The good news is that apparently Tasmanian Devils are less persecuted than they used to be despite the fact they are little devils…. Probably distant cousins to HAMPSTAHS! Px

      • Reply Aleesah Darlison Aug 29,2017 7:42 am

        Tassie Devils were once hunted alongside the thyalcine. In fact, they were almost brought to the brink of extinction with the thylacine. Sad to think that they’re now facing another challenge that’s brought them to the brink. But at least this time, humans are doing something to save them.

        • Reply Paul Aug 29,2017 12:47 pm

          I just keep hoping thee is some hope for all the endangered species we share the planet with Aleesah. And I said it is writers like you getting these ideas in to kids minds that are going to make the difference.

  4. Reply Robbie Cheadle Aug 23,2017 9:11 pm

    A very informative post, Paul. I did not know any of this interesting information and I thank you for it. It is great how you tied it in with Norah’s post about Aleesah’s book.

    • Reply Paul Aug 23,2017 11:26 pm

      Thanks Robbie, it really was Aleesha’s book and her interview with Norah prompting me to write about types of animal I have been interested in for a long time. Despite marsupials suffering disproportionately in the great extinction that took out the dinosaurs they went on to produce some incredibly diverse forms in Australia and South America. Every continent has evolved its own unique blend of fauna including the Afrotheria in Africa – elephants, hydraxes, Sea cows and manatees, elephant shrews, golden moles and aardvarks are all related from a group isolated on Africa when it broke away from the other southern landmasses before the dinosaurs went extinct and drifted around as an island continent like Australia and South Africa have in different times in their history. Apart from those animals the classic African fauna all evolved somewhere else…. Cats in the far-east, giraffes in what is now Pakistan, dogs rhinos, horses, camels, cattle and deer in North America (a bit controversial as they are such ancient animals with long lineages) and possibly China as the two were linked for long periods by land bridges. Monkeys and apes possibly came from North America and China too but were established in the island continents of Africa and South America pretty early on. It begs the question how lemurs got all the way to Madagascar.

  5. Reply Donata Zawadzka Aug 23,2017 12:51 pm

    This is fascinating Paul! I love the video of them with the aboriginal sounds of didgeridoo! They were magnificent creatures!

  6. Reply Aleesah Darlison Aug 23,2017 10:01 am

    Great article, Paul. They are fascinating (and fantastic) Australian beasts roaming our land for 17 million years! They’re always on my mind as you might have guessed from my book. Thanks for mentioning Stripes in the Forest and sharing your knowledge on thylacines.

    • Reply Paul Aug 23,2017 11:31 pm

      Thank you Aleesha. I am so pleased you liked it. I was so aware that I did not want to muscle in on the stupendous work you have done with you beautiful book, rather I wanted to complement your work. And as for sharing your lovely book and Norah’s great interview I could not have in all conscience ignored the people who gave such inspiration. So thank you!

  7. Reply sally cronin Aug 23,2017 7:54 am

    Another wonderful post Paul and how tragic that a species should yet again be vanquished by man. I don’t think we should be spending billions on finding another planet to inhabit. We haven’t got the right to go and destroy another.

    • Reply Paul Aug 23,2017 11:33 pm

      You know what Sally you always hit the nail right on the head… if we do get to another planet and there is life I can’t see us packing up the spaceship and moving on. Thanks for also being instrumental in helping create the post in the first place. Love PX

  8. Reply Norah Colvin Aug 23,2017 4:01 am

    What a fascinating article, Paul. I already knew a bit about the thylacine, but you added many more interesting tidbits of information of which I wasn’t aware, such as the thylacoleo. I really enjoyed the way you contrasted different pieces of information in your article. You’d obviously researched the thylacine thoroughly. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the interview with Aleesah about her lovely picture book starring the thylacine “Stripes in the Forest” and I thank you for the mention in your post and for linking to the interview. It’s great to meet another thylacine fan and to see information about it being shared around the world. You mentioned being a fan of Australian fauna. I’m interested to know what sparked that. Thank you and best wishes, Norah

    • Reply Paul Aug 23,2017 11:53 pm

      Dear Norah as I said to Sally and Aleesha it should be me thanking you guys. You ask where the interest came from. I have been fascinated by animals since being a kid which is why books like Aleesha’s are so important… There is a quote somewhere that says give me the child until he is 5 and I will give you the man… our passions stick. As for Australia I think it was the egg laying platypus and the kangaroo that got me when young and since then I have read a lot. I will not repeat what I said to Robbie but Australia was unique in being exclusively populated by marsupials. There are some excellent fossil sites like Riversleigh where you can trace the evolution of a rather restricted range of animals from the Domestic Cat sized priscileo to the Leopard Sized Thylacoleo. There were wombats the size of cars, and 5foot high rat kangaroos that ate flesh. You can also trace the climate changes in Australia and look at how the changing habitat of hot desert replaced largely wet jungle forced the animals to evolve. In the ice Age Greater Australia of Sahul included New Guinea and Tasmania in one landmass. The Victorian naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace was the first to identify this with the Wallace line so in New Guinea there are marsupials like the tree kangaroo from Australia but on the islands connected to Asia are elephants and monkeys… and the two never nmix. In the town local to where I live Neath there is an “English heritage plaque” (I live in Old South Wales- as opposed to new South Wales- so you can’t say English too loud) on a building telling us he once lived there….. That’s pretty cool!

      • Reply Norah Colvin Aug 24,2017 5:08 am

        That’s all pretty cool, Paul. I’ve always loved our Australian fauna too but I don’t know as much about it as you do. I wouldn’t have expected anyone from Old South Wales, or anywhere else, to take such a deep interest in them. I now realise what foolishness that thinking is. We’re interested in animals from all over the world, why shouldn’t others be interested in ours! Thanks for the link to the Australian museum. Our museums are pretty rich in our country’s history. Australia was also home to some of the largest dinosaurs. I was looking at information about them at the Queensland museum with my grandkids yesterday and talking with a paleontogist about fossils. Incredibly fascinating.

        • Reply Paul Aug 28,2017 12:12 am

          Dear Norah, Hope you enjoyed your weekend. I think the thing is that Australian fauna is so unique it tells us a lot about adaption and survival mechanisms and it has also lead to a reevaluation of marsupials, which suffered much worse than placental mammals during the Cretaceous Extinction. Plus you have the only monotreme mammals still in existence the platypus and echidna.. wich is enough to put you on the world super map alone. Typically I am fascinated by dinosaurs too and the discoveries coming out of Dinosaur Cove is as amazing as anything Australia has produced. I find it still had to believe that so much of the interior of the continent was under water in those days! Send my best to Aleesah when you next speak. All my best Paul

          • Reply Aleesah Darlison Aug 28,2017 4:05 am

            Given the rich discussion generated here and so many discoveries still being made… I think there need to be many more books for children on our own lost species including the dinosaurs that once roamed these lands. Back the desk for me!

          • Reply Paul Aug 29,2017 12:07 am

            Look forward to seeing your future books Aleesah!

  9. Reply D. Wallace Peach Aug 22,2017 8:09 pm

    Fascinating, and sad that the thylacine is probably extinct. I don’t understand the human willingness to completely wipe out an entire species. It seems like a blindness to beauty to disregard the biodiversity of the planet and the true web of life that holds it together. I hope we don’t wipe ourselves out while we’re at it.

    • Reply Paul Aug 24,2017 12:07 am

      Diana the thylocine is simply the tip of the iceberg…. for the past 10,000 years we have been going through a huge mass extinction. In America alone I think about 25 types of animals went extinct including horses, mammoths (related to the Indian elephant), mastodonts (elephant cousins), camels (how do you think lamas got to South America), the short faced bear, the American Cheetah (why do you think American antelope run so fast?) the American Lion, the Sabre toothed Cats, giant sloths, glypodonts (armadillos the size of beetle cars), terror birds,condor relatives, dire wolves, the saiga antelope, the giant beaver that stood six foot high!), Bison Antiquitus (the frozen carcasses of which might have given rise to Paul Bunyan’s giant pet blue ox). Man might not be responsible for all these extinctions but he certainly hasn’t helped and to be honest to finish that thought would be a whole different post but in brief I do think we will slip of the pinnacle think about the worlds most overcrowded cities and wonder if they could survive another Spanish flu that killed more people than the first world war in the closing years of that war. Then there are melting ice-caps: the glaciers on Greenland alone could raise sea levels by 24 feet wiping out most of our ports, farmland and the third world. And now I am depressing even myself!

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