Contagious Face Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

The Tasmanian Devil is a Looney Tune, but it’s also a totally real, smelly, kind of violent animal. But these devils are endangered, and the biggest threat to their life is not, you know, habitat loss or global warming. It is a contagious face cancer. What?! So usually when an animal gets cancer, the cancer stays within the body of that animal, and when that animal dies for whatever reason, the cancer also dies. But that’s not the case for this Tasmanian Devil face cancer. Evolutionary studies done by researchers at the University of Cambridge suggest that this face cancer actually started with a patient zero Tasmanian Devil sometime in the 80s and 90s. This cancer is transmitted from devil to devil through biting. And Tasmanian devils, pound for pound, have one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom, and they’re biting each other fairly frequently when males fight for access to a female. Evolutionary studies also reveal that the face cancers between devils, even miles apart, are very similar. So this suggests that this cancer cell is kind of acting like its own parasitic organism, which is totally terrifying and kind of amazing.

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