Gruesome cancer afflicting Tasmanian devils may be waning, a hopeful sign
New genetic analyses reveal the disease, which causes large facial tumors, is less infectious than a decade ago.
For nearly a year since the first cases of COVID-19 ripped across the world, humanity has been talking about viruses. But for the past three decades, Tasmanian devils have been suffering from their own pandemic—a gruesome facial cancer that spreads through biting.
The Australian marsupial’s tumors cause cavernous mouth sores that eventually lead to starvation. And unlike nearly all other cancers, this form is contagious.
Devil facial tumor disease, as it’s called, has slashed the species’ population from 140,000 animals to around 20,000. It’s easily spread because the feisty animals often nip each other during breeding season or while scrapping over carcasses, their main source of food. (Related: Can Tasmanian devils beat cancer of the face?)