You would think that an animal so dedicated to sex that it makes love until it dies would be a reproductive force to be reckoned with, but apparently not. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia have discovered two new species of Dusky Antechinus, a small marsupial that loves sex more than you love anything. Unfortunately, despite their noble efforts, three of the 15 known species are poised for the “threatened” list, in part thanks to man’s intervention.
“We discovered the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus not far from the old European settlement town of Port Arthur in Tasmania,” said Dr Andrew Baker, a mammologist from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty. “Most of its limited habitat falls within state forest, which is being logged. This species now apparently only lives in tiny, fragmented stands of intact forest that are under threat.”
Climate change is also destroying their habitats. The Black-tailed and the Silver-headed Antechinus, two of the other newly discovered species, have incredibly tiny population distributions in the high reaches of the misty mountains. As the planet warms, they have nowhere to go, unable to climb any higher.
The Antechinus’ randy habits also put it at risk for population loss. Each year, the males come together to ferociously compete for mating rights, and when they win, they don’t stop.
“The breeding period is basically two to three weeks of speed-mating, with testosterone-fuelled males coupling with as many females as possible, for up to 14 hours at a time,” he said.
Their stamina comes at a price, unfortunately. All of that constant sexing makes their bodies unable to regulate stress hormones, which eventually rise so high that their immune systems collapse and they die – all before the mother gives birth.
The suicidal sex missions actually serve an evolutionary purpose, though – with the males dead, there’s an abundance of food for both the mothers and their offspring. Raising their kids as single mothers does make them more vulnerable, however. Feral cats, invasive foreign species and other threats all lead to Australia having the worst mammalian extinction rate in the world.
“These threats, together with global warming, fires and habitat loss, may cause local population extinctions of our unique mammals almost weekly,” said Dr Baker.