Researchers have discovered two new species of a rare marsupial called the antechinus, and there may still be more species out there. However, they might not be around for much longer. Their destructive sexual habits, alongside deforestation, make them very vulnerable to being wiped out.
The males of the species only live for about a year and go out with a bang. Or a lot of bangs, rapidly and in succession over about two weeks. The males mature fairly quickly, then in their last days of life are overcome with a feral, testosterone-fueled mating urge and engage in frantic sexual conduct, barely stopping to sleep or eat. The orgy doesn't have... uh... a happy ending. Their little bodies disintegrate from the extensive self-neglect.
Scientists initially thought that the males were committing suicide as an act of altruism, leaving more food and resources for the pregnant females and their offspring. Instead, researchers now think that their lusty deaths serve to overcome male competition and distribute DNA to as many females as possible.
They are so caught up in mating that stress hormone levels in their blood increase to dangerous levels. After weeks of not taking care of themselves in favor of procreating, the males' immune systems start to collapse, leaving them at risk of parasitic invasion, infections and even gangrene. Not to mention that they inflict ulcers, fur loss and even internal bleeding on themselves. Their bodies disintegrate as they are stripped of nutrients to fuel this two-week orgy. Even though they are bedraggled and broken, they die victorious.
But these animals aren't the only ones on a frantic mission: researchers are keen to get the antechinus listed as "endangered" so that they can start trying to protect their habitat. And creatures insistent on wiping out half of their population every year need all the help they can get. They are quite selective about their territory: they only live in cool, high and isolated forest that tends to span only a few square kilometers. This small, specific habitat leaves them vulnerable to deforestation, climate change, and foreign pests.
The antechinus isn't a redundant member of the Australian ecosystem: some flowering plants are pollinated with a little help from the antechinus. If these animals are wiped out, then it's probable that Australia's wildlife will also suffer.
"It's very possible some of these beautiful species could go extinct," said Mr. Thomas Mutton, a Ph.D. student trying to conserve the species. "There are many species at risk in Australia and it's really something I think as a society we need to think about more deeply."
[Video: The suicidal Mating Ritual of the male marsupial antechinus]
[H/T ABC News]