Body temperatures and activity patterns of Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) and eastern quolls (Dasyurus viverrinus) through a subalpine winter

Physiol Zool. 1997 Jan-Feb;70(1):53-60. doi: 10.1086/639541.


During a field study of carnivorous dasyurid marsupials in subalpine Tasmania, the trapping success for Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), but not for spotted-tailed quolls (Dasyurus maculatus) or eastern quolls (Dasyurus viverrinus), was significantly lower when winter weather conditions turned to sleet or snow or when deep snow lay on the ground. This field study was instigated to determine if devils and eastern quolls spend more time in burrows in severe weather conditions and if they enter torpor. Torpor is known to occur in eutherian mammals as large as devils and in a similar-sized congeneric marsupial, the western quoll (Dasyurus geoffroyi). Using radiotelemetry, body temperatures of Tasmanian devils and eastern quolls ranging freely in their natural habitat were monitored throughout winter. Neither species was observed in torpor, even under prolonged severe weather conditions, and the number of hours spent active not did differ between summer and winter or between moderate and severe winter weather conditions. Body temperatures averaged 36.5 degrees C (SD = 0.079, range of 33.5 degrees-38.6 degrees C) for the three male eastern quolls and 35.7 degrees C (SD = 0.575, range of 31.3 degrees-37.5 degrees C) for the four (male and female) devils. A diel cycle in body temperature occurred in both species; temperatures rose each evening when animals became active, remained high throughout the night despite ambient temperatures falling to the diel minima, and were lower during the day when the individuals were inactive in dens. The amplitude of this cycle was greater in eastern quolls (1.1 degrees C, SD = 0.142) than in devils (0.6 degree C, SD = 0.252).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Female
  • Hibernation / physiology
  • Male
  • Marsupialia / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Seasons*
  • Tasmania
  • Telemetry