New suicide-sex marsupials discovered in Australia

These sex-crazed mammals mate with such reckless abandon for 2 weeks straight that it literally kills them. What a way to go.

Scientists in Queensland, Australia have discovered two new species of sex-till-you-drop marsupials … and one is already destined for the threatened list. Which isn’t that surprising, given that each mating season the small mammals, antechinus, lose their male population to the rigors of sex.

The two new species bring the total number to five new ones discovered by Dr. Andrew Baker from Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) and his team in the last three years. This represents a 50 percent increase in diversity within this long-known genus of mammals. The five are:

  • Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus vandycki)
  • Mainland Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus mimetes)
  • Black-tailed Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus arktos)
  • Silver-headed Antechinus (Antechinus argentus)
  • Buff-footed Antechinus (Antechinus mysticus)

Yet they believe that now three of the new antechinus are already under threat from climate change, feral pests and habitat loss.

"We discovered the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus not far from the old European settlement town of Port Arthur in Tasmania," said Dr 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. Uncovering new mammals in developed countries like Australia is pretty rare and the fact we've found even more antechinus species hints at the biodiversity jewels still waiting to be unearthed.”

© Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum: Remote section of Springbrook National Park, the habitat of the threatened black-tailed antechinus (Antechinus arktos). "It's a shame that mere moments after discovery,” he adds, “these little Tasmanian marsupials are threatened with extinction at human hands."

And the threat only adds to an already perilous population challenge, as each year the numbers are halved during breeding season. For a few weeks, male antechinus go on an all-out sex bender, frantically breeding with as many females as they can get their paws on. They don’t eat, they don’t sleep – their mind is on one thing and one thing only: sex.

"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.

"Ultimately, the testosterone triggers a malfunction in the stress hormone shut-off switch; the resulting rise in stress hormones causes the males' immune systems to collapse and they all drop dead before the females give birth to a single baby.”

And while it’s not so good for the males (or, maybe it is, depending on how you look at it) it does allow for enough food – mainly spiders and insects – for the babies to subsist on, Baker explains.

Baker is currently applying to the Tasmanian Government for a threatened species listing for the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus. His team is also seeking to have all three threatened antechinus species added to Australia's federal threatened species list, which will help ensure their protection.

You can see the X-rated antics of antechinus in the video below. Cue the Barry White.

Tags: Animals | Australia | Endangered Species


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