Believe It or Not!
The Tasmanian Devil, the world’s largest marsupial carnivore, is found in only one place, the island of Tasmania off the coast of Australia. It is now endangered. In the last 15 years, 70% of the animals have been wiped out from one thing: a highly-contagious, highly-lethal facial cancer.
When an cancerous devil is bitten by another (and those little jerks like to bite a lot), the cancer cells themselves can actually hop from one animal to the other and the one that was previously cancer-free becomes a breeding ground for the cancer cells.
There are a number of cancer-causing things that are contagious, like certain strains of the human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer in women, but for the cancer itself to be contagious is a pretty rare and unusual thing. The only other one I know of is an STD that dogs get, but doctors are on the lookout for the possibility that something like that might crop up in humans.
It’s pretty creepy to think that there is a mutated, cancerous remnant of a long-dead Tasmanian devil haunting the rest of its kind as it works its way from devil to devil, slowly disfiguring their faces until they’re unable to eat or breathe. It makes the story of Henrietta Lacks sound pretty tame in comparison, doesn’t it?