These Shrew-Like Critters With Dangerous Sex Lives Are Now Officially Endangered

It's hard not to imagine this antechinus offering a prayer before mating season. The prospects of surviving it are slim. Pete Evans/Shutterstock

It turns out a marsupial with a penchant for dangerous sex isn't likely to go extinct from the exertions of mating but rather human meddling.

After noting a sharp population decline, the Australian government has declared both the silver-headed antechinus and the black-tailed dusky antechinus officially endangered.

The animals, which resemble small shrews, have come under increasing threat from loss of habitat, the country's Threatened Species Scientific Committee noted. Another major factor is human-induced climate change.

Although confined to Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania, antechinuses found fame on the world stage for mating habits so spectacular and extreme that the males don't survive it.

But that dubious fame may be all-too fleeting. The marsupials — there are 15 known species antechinus in Australia — were first discovered in 2013 by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

At the time, finding a new mammal species in an industrialized country like Australia was considered rare and worth celebrating.

Mammalogist Andrew Baker
Dr. Andrew Baker of was on the team that first discovered the marsupial back in 2013. Queensland University of Technology

As more antechinus species were discovered, it didn’t take long for scientists to realize their sex life was 50 shades of grave.

The male members of the species die en masse during mating season in what’s known as suicidal reproduction: The animals essentially have sex for so long — up to 14 hours — that extreme exhaustion leads to organ failure and, ultimately, death.

"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," QUT mammalogist Andrew Baker noted in a release at the time.

"This yearly male suicide mission, which halves each antechinus population, means the mums have enough spiders and insects to eat while they raise the next precious generation. But the future of each species is entrusted to the mothers alone."

Indeed, despite the drama, antechinuses have managed their sex lives in a way that ensures the species endures.

Now, Baker say it's up to humans to manage themselves to ensure antechinuses live to mate — and die — again.

"Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate anywhere on earth," Baker explained in a recent release. "We must take action, so I am pleased the Australian Government has approved this listing and enshrined the protection of the antechinus, and a range of other species, in federal legislation."