Antechinus

Marsupials Mating: Antechinus Mass Die Off Linked To Suicidal Sex Ritual

A marsupial’s mating ritual is blamed for contributing to an alarming reduction in the species’ numbers. Researchers with the Queensland, Australia, University of Technology found Dusky Antechinus’ routinely participate in marathon mating rituals — which often end in death.

Dr. Andrew Baker, who led the study, said the marsupials’ mating marathons can last several weeks, with individual sessions lasting up to 14 hours.

As reported by Science Daily, the male Dusky Antechinus is driven by a rush of testosterone, which occurs during the mating season. The increased hormones allow the marsuipials to mate for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, as Dr. Baker explains, the additional stress can be deadly.

“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.”

The marsupials’ mating habits are not only deadly, they can be incredibly painful. Baker said the strenuous activity causes internal bleeding, ulcers, blindness, and loss of fur.

As reported by ABC News, the unusual mating ritual reduces Antechinus communities by half each year. Generally, the life expectancy for a male of the species is less than one year.

Initially, the reduction in numbers is beneficial. As there are fewer animals competing for food, the new mothers and their babies have better chances for survival.

However, as they are approaching threatened status, their mating habits are putting the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus at risk.

In addition to the suicidal mating rituals, marsupials face numerous threats including invasive and natural predators. They are also threatened by habit loss, due to logging and brush fires.

As reported by Phys.org, Dr. Baker’s team discovered “five new species of Antechinus in the past three years.” Currently, the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus, Silver-headed Antechinus, and Black-tailed Dusky Antechinus are considered to be threatened and/or endangered.

Baker recently petitioned for federal protection of the Antechinus, which will help reduce threats to the population. Although the status will not change the marsupials’ mating rituals, it is expected reduce habitat loss.

[Image via Wikimedia]

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