Two news species of marsupials that reproduce themselves to death were discovered by scientists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. One species, Dusky antechinus, was found out in an isolated area in the south east of Tasmania and another type from the mainland received the species status.
They are both species of Antechinus. They look like mice and are bristly haired and feed on insects. What makes these animals special is the fact that the sex sprees of males last up to 14 hours and after two or three weeks of such sprees the males die and leave the females to take care of the newborns.
After sex the stress hormones in males explode and lead to the collapse of their immune system. According to the lead author of the study, mammalogist Andrew Baker, the males drop dead before the female even gets the chance to give birth to a single baby. He remarked:
“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.”
Baker said that the marsupials have a limited habitat most of which consists of forest. They live in the remaining small fragments of intact forest which are under threat. In fact the silver-headed and the black-tailed antechinus, as they are called, live on isolated mountaintops which cover just a few miles. This means that they probably have the smallest mammal natural habitat in Australia. The warming temperatures force the marsupials to move higher and soon they may have no place left to go.
Researchers have known ten species of such sex-crazed marsupials and the first one was discovered in 1803. Five antechinus species were identified only in the last three years. This indicates that the genus is more diverse than scientists previously thought.
Although it is exciting for scientists to have discovered more species it is also sad to know that they will soon become extinct. Baker remarked that it is rare to discover new mammals in developing countries such as Australia. Moreover finding a new species of antechinus indicates that there are other biodiversity jewels which are waiting to be explored, according to him. He also added that it is a shame to find out right after the discovery of the new species that the marsupials are going to become extinct and humans also have a contribution to it.
Image Source: Australian Geographic