A small endangered marsupial is dying for sex – literally.
The male northern quoll – a carnivorous mammal about the size of a small domestic cat – is walking so far and sleeping so little in its desperate search for a female mate that it may be causing its own early death, according to a published study Wednesday.
The quoll lives in parts of western and northern Australia and is known for its unusual mating habits. Males are suicidal reproducers that die after one mating season, while females continue to live and breed for up to four years.
Now new research from two Australian teams, at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland, has shed light on why that might be.
The researchers fitted tiny backpacks with trackers to both male and female quotas on Groote Eylandt, a large island off the coast of Australia’s Northern Territory, and found significant differences in the behavior of men and women.
A machine learning algorithm was then used to analyze more than 76 hours of recorded footage and predict quoll behavior over a period of 42 days.
Their findings, published in the Royal Society Open Science, suggest that males become so exhausted that they either fail to find enough food or remain sufficiently wary of predators.
One man, whom researchers named Moimoi, walked 6.5 miles in one night in search of a friend — a distance equivalent to the average person walking up to 24 miles, researchers said.
Joshua Gaschk, who led the study, said in a statement: “Sleep deprivation and its associated symptoms for a long period of time would make recovery impossible and could explain the causes of death recorded in males after the breeding season.
“They become easy prey, can’t avoid vehicle collisions, or die of exhaustion.”
The health risks of sleep deprivation in rodents are well documented, and those studied by researchers have been found to lose weight, become aggressive and exhibit reckless behavior.
To make partnering even more troublesome, male cockroaches suffer in appearance and attract increased numbers of parasites due to a lack of grooming, the study found.
Many other animals including some fish and insects put all their energy into just one breeding season – a process called semelparity – but the most famous mammal is the quoll.
Jack Ashby, assistant director of the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, England, and an expert on Australian mammals who was not involved in the quoll study, explained that all animals incur a cost to their own body and long-term survival to their production. young. These costs are usually weighted equally over the life of the parents.
“Male suicidal reproducers – which, among mammals is a strategy that has arisen more than once in marsupials, but in no other groups – have taken this compromise to the extreme, sacrificing literally every something for a breeding event only,” he told NBC News via email. .
“‘Live fast, die young’ is certainly the way for these species. However, that maxim usually ends with, ‘ … and leave a good-looking body.” This is definitely not what happens here.”
During Ashby’s own fieldwork in the monsoon forests of northern Australia, he said he found male northern owls nearing the end of their short breeding window. “They are balding, covered with scabies, sores, ticks and other parasites – it is clear that their bodies are shutting down,” he said.
“It certainly makes sense that their efforts to find friends during this period would lead to lack of sleep and less time to take care of themselves in general, as this new study suggests know,” he said.
Christofer Clemente, one of the researchers behind the study, said that the future of the quoll is under threat, but not because of mating.
“Its conservation status is: Endangered (Dwindling population), mainly due to habitat loss, as well as the introduction of invasive species such as dogs, cats, foxes and cane toads,” he said.
The team wants to continue their work and look at the effects of sleep deprivation in other marsupial mammals in Austria, such as opossums and Tasmanian Devils.
A cane toad weighing almost 6 pounds was recently found in northern Australia and was named “Toadzilla”.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com