Endangered animal’s exhausting search for sex may be killing it, study says

Photo from the Australian Dept. of Agriculture

Swedish artist Tove Lo sings “No One Dies From Love.” Well, this little sex-obsessed, sleep-deprived animal might.

The male northern quoll, an endangered marsupial native to the Australian coasts, appears to literally die from its sexual habits. The obscure creature forgoes sleep in search of mates, leading to exhaustion and death, according to a new study published Feb. 1 in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The findings likely explain the peculiar phenomenon where males die after one season of breeding, while females survive for up to four seasons, researchers affiliated with the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland wrote in the study.

In 2019, researchers captured a group of northern quolls and fastened accelerometers, which looked like small backpacks, to each creature. Microchips and ear tags were also used for identification.

The small animals were then released into an enclosure and recorded on video so that a machine learning algorithm could review, learn and predict their behavior, researchers said. Nearly a dozen distinct behaviors were identified, including climbing, resting, walking, jumping, scurrying and standing vigilant.

Afterwards, the animals were released at their place of capture and approximately 850 hours of “wild roaming” behavior was recorded by the accelerometers.

The newly trained machine learning algorithm then analyzed the collected data and predicted the quolls’ behavior, which revealed significant differences between genders, researchers found.

Males were more active overall, spending more time performing high-energy behaviors such as walking, while females spent more time undertaking low-energy activities such as lying and resting, researchers said.

For example, males, on average, spent 13.1% of their time walking, whereas females spent 8.9% doing the same.

Researchers hypothesized that the discrepancy exists because males were prone to travel large distances to find areas with a “high density of females.”

One male, known as Moimoi, walked 6.5 miles in one day, a sizable distance for the tiny quoll, to find a mate.

Researchers inferred that based on their high levels of activity, the males were likely sleep deprived, meaning they could “become easy prey, unable to avoid collisions, or die from exhaustion.”

This high-stakes mating strategy, though it often ends in early death, does appear effective, researchers said.

“It works for the quolls because the females all synchronize their reproductive cycles within a narrow period, based on the abundance of insect food available,” Christofer Clemente, one of the study’s co-authors told McClatchy News. “This means the best strategy for males is to mate with as many females in this short window of opportunity.”

Unfortunately, through no fault of their mating tactics, northern quoll populations continue to decrease, Clemente said. According to one estimate, there are only about 100,000 left.

“The key factors for their population decline are habitat loss, and invasive species like dogs, cats, foxes and the invasive cane toads,” he said.

Storms pour summer’s worth of rain on New Zealand in one day — and water keeps coming

Hospital construction uncovers ancient, treasure-filled tombs in China. Take a look

Large great white sharks are gathering off South Carolina, satellite tracking shows