Endangered animal is killing itself for sex, study suggests
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, while 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.”
There are only about 100,000 northern quolls left in Australia and their population is facing “rapid ongoing decline,” according to Terrain, a conservation non-profit.