New Species of Marathon Sex Specialist Discovered
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 19, 2014
This is a comedy, or a tragedy, about what it really means to go out with a bang. And you say natural history is dull sort of stuff? This account comes from Elise Worthington at ABC News, Australia’s Public Broadcasting outlet:
Queensland scientists have discovered a new species of mouse-like marsupial renowned for its deadly breeding habits in the Gold Coast hinterland.
The carnivorous antechinus received international attention last year after scientists found the male of the species was dying from stress after over-enthusiastic marathon mating sessions.
Now researchers have discovered a new species, the black-tailed antechinus.
It is thought the species is only found in high-altitude, wet areas in the Springbrook National Park between northern New South Wales and the Gold Coast Hinterland.
Dr Andrew Baker, from the Queensland University of Technology, says researchers are applying for an endangered species listing while they conduct more research.
“They probably follow the typical pattern of antechinus, which is all males are dead before they turn one year old,” he said.
He says usually antechinus have a “frenzied mating period” when they are about 11 months old, and “all males will die before the young are born”.
Dr Baker says it is not yet known how many of the species exist, but he describes them as “quite striking”.
“The tail emerges from a body that is very shaggy, very hairy, with really long guard hairs,” he said.
“On the rump of the animal it becomes almost an orangey-brown colour, but where the tail emerges from the rump there is quite a distinct change from orange rump to black tail.
“It’s a very short-furred tail and they have black feet as well.”
The new findings are published in the scientific journal Zootaxa.
Last year, biologist Diana Fisher from the University of Queensland spoke about the animal’s mating habits.
Dr Fisher was the lead author of a study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which explained why the die-off happens.
Previously scientists thought the bizarre pattern was due to the males being altruistic and leaving more food for their offspring.
But Dr Fisher’s study showed the animals were actually over-doing it in order to promote their own genes over their competitors’ genes, and trying so hard to reproduce that their bodies shut down.
“What they do is just competitively mate, so they mate for a very long time, like 12 to 14 hours, some of the species,” she said.
“They do it over and over and over – they’re very promiscuous. There’s this huge intense mating season going on for about two weeks.”
Dr Fisher says the males experience an escalation of stress hormones, which allows them to continue mating for a long time.
But the researchers found the extreme rush of stress hormones also caused the animals’ body tissues to “disintegrate”.
“It’s a bit distressing to see them die,” she said.
“Their fur falls off. They look very sick and stagger around, and sometimes they get gangrene infections because their immune system stops working.”