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Poor Devils: Critters' fights transmit cancer

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9:56am, February 1, 2006

A fatal cancer afflicting Tasmanian devils passes from one of the small marsupials to another when they bite each other, rather than being transmitted via a virus, a new study suggests. The disease is the first cancer known to spread directly from scratch to scratch.

The whirling cartoon version of a Tasmanian devil may not look much like the furry reality, but it does capture the creature's legendary fierceness.

"They're always squabbling and fighting. They don't share food, and their [mating] foreplay isn't much better," says cytogeneticist Anne-Maree Pearse of Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment in Kings Meadows. "They bite each other around the face and mouth."

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