The Tasmanian tiger, also called Tasmanian wolf and thylacine, was neither a tiger nor a wolf, but a marsupial, and closely related to the Tasmanian devil. The last known Tasmanian tiger died in 1936, but hundreds of unconfirmed sightings have spurred investigations into whether the animal still lives.
Extinction marked the demise of the only member of its family, Thylacinidae, and the world's largest marsupial (pouched) carnivore. Tasmanian tigers were 39 to 51 inches (100 to 130 centimeters) long, and the tail added 20 to 26 inches (50 to 65 cm) to its length. They weighed 33 to 66 lbs. (15 to 30 kilograms), according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Tasmanian tigers looked like dogs with yellowish fur. They had black stripes across the body, and a thin, almost rodent-like tail.
Fossil evidence suggests that the modern thylacine — Thylacinus cynocephalus, whose name means "dog-headed pouched one" — emerged about 4 million years ago. Once widespread across Australia, the animal disappeared everywhere except Tasmania about 2,000 years ago, according to the National Museum of Australia (NMA). The disappearance was likely due to competition with dingos. Modern people discovered the animal in Tasmania, thus its name.
While it had a vicious appearance, Tasmanian tigers were actually very timid and could be captured without a fight. They would often die suddenly, perhaps from going into shock, according to the Australian government.
Researchers think that Tasmanian tigers located prey by scent and hunted, for the most part, at night. They would hunt alone or with a partner. They were mostly quiet creatures, but, when hunting, they would make a yapping noise, much like a small dog, according to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.
Tasmanian tigers were meat eaters. They hunted kangaroos, sheep and wallabies, reportedly, though there is little research into the eating habits of these animals. These animals could open their mouths almost 90 degrees, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. However, a study in the August 2011 Journal of Zoology found that the Tasmanian tiger wouldn’t have been able to kill large prey because of its weak jaw. The authors thought that the animal would have hunted for small marsupials like wallabies and possums.
Like other marsupials, Tasmanian tigers had pouches. Their pouches' opening faced their hind legs, though. In her pouch, a female could carry two to four hairless babies at once. As the babies grew, the pouch expanded to accommodate them.
After the babies became older, the mother would leave the young in a lair, such as a cave or hollowed log, to go hunting.
Thylacines likely lived five to seven years in the wild, though they lived up to nine years in captivity.
Here is the taxonomy information for the Tasmanian tiger, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS):
Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Mammalia Subclass: Theria Infraclass: Metatheria Order: Dasyuromorphia Family: Thylacinidae Genus: Thylacinus Species: Thylacinus cynocephalus
Extinct, or not?
It is estimated there were around 5,000 thylacines in Tasmania when Europeans settled in the area, according to National Museum Australia. In 1830, the Van Diemens Land Co. introduced bounty on the animal, and in 1888 the Tasmanian Parliament placed a bounty of 1 pound ($1.25) on thylacines, according to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. The last wild Tasmanian tiger was killed between 1910 and 1920. In 1936, the last known thylacine, named Benjamin, died in captivity in the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Australia. This was just two months after the Australian government made the animal a protected species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Tasmanian tigers as extinct. However, there have been hundreds of sighting of the Tasmanian tiger over the last 100 years or so. In fact, some of the latest sightings have spurred an investigation into their current existence.
A research team at the Australian Museum launched the Thylacine Cloning Project in 1999 to attempt to clone a Tasmanian tiger. The research team obtained tissue samples from a female thylacine that had been preserved in alcohol for over 100 years. They were able to extract DNA, and by 2002, they had replicated individual genes. However, in 2005, researchers determined that the quality of the DNA was too poor to work with, and the project was scrapped.
Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now
Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.