Scientists in Australia have discovered a new species of an animal known for having sex to the point of suicide -- but the creature may be in danger from more than just its own libido.
The antechinus is a small, mouse-like marsupial native to Australia and New Guinea.
A Monday news release from Queensland University of Technology announced that scientists have discovered a new species of the little critter, the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus. The release said the species, along with two other species of antechinus found previously, is threatened by climate change and loss of habitat and scientists are trying to get the animals placed on Australia's federal threatened species list.
The antechinus is best known for the frenzied -- and suicidal -- sex habits of its males. For a period of two to three weeks, males mate with as many females as possible, sometimes having sex for 14 hours straight.
The newly discovered Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus is threatened by loss of habitat. (Photo: Queensland University of Technology)
"They'll bleed internally, they have ulcers, their fur falls off in patches, sometimes they're stumbling around blind and still trying to mate," mammalogist Dr. Andrew Baker told the Australian Broadcasting Company.
Baker explains in the news release how this manic lovemaking results in the animal's 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.
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.
The press release also notes that scientists recently “elevated” an antechinus subspecies -- the Mainland Dusky Antechinus -- to the status of species. The Mainland Dusky Antechinus was originally discovered in 1840, but was only formally named as its own species last year, according to a paper published in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum -- Nature.
The Mainland Dusky Antechinus is found in southeastern Australia, while the newly discovered species, the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus, lives on the Tasman Peninsula. Baker warns in the news release that the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus may be in danger.
"Most of its limited habitat falls within state forest, which is being logged,” Baker said. “This species now apparently only lives in tiny, fragmented stands of intact forest that are under threat.”
Baker went on to note the importance of conserving natural habitat. "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,” he said.
The mammalogist also fears for the future of two other antechinus species -- the Black-tailed and Silver-headed Antechinus -- which he says are threatened by climate change.
"These species have already retreated to their misty mountain summits -- in the face of ongoing climate warming, they have nowhere left to run,” he said.