Long-term sleep deprivation is unhealthy and ultimately fatal: This obviously also applies to Australian pygmy quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) . The urge to reproduce keeps them restless, which many males pay with their lives at the end of the mating period. This is suggested by a study by Joshua Gaschk of the University of Queensland and his team in Royal Society Open Science.
The endangered marsupial species lives in north-eastern Australia and is one of the few semelparous mammal species that reproduces only once in its life and then dies – at least the males do. Their life expectancy is only around a year, while the females can survive for up to four years.
To find out what causes males to die prematurely, Gaschk and co caught more than a dozen quolls on the island of Groote Eylandt off the coast of the Northern Territory and fitted them with tiny sensors. These should record the activities of the animals and transmit them to the scientists remotely. The data showed impressive differences between both sexes: while females rested about a quarter of the monitored time, this accounted for only 8 percent of males. Conversely, they spent 13 percent of their time migrating in search of mates or food, compared to 9 percent for females.
One of the quolls willing to reproduce covered a distance of more than ten kilometers in just one night, which is a considerable distance for the animals, which are only the size of a cat. “They travel great distances to mate as often as possible. And it seems that their drive is so strong that they give up sleep to spend more time looking for mates,” says Christofer Clemente of the University of Queensland, who was involved in the study. They lose weight, become more aggressive and ruthless.
Overall, this behavior causes the health of the males to deteriorate; the number of their parasites is also increasing sharply because they spend less time on personal hygiene. “They become easy prey for predators, can no longer avoid collisions with vehicles or simply die of exhaustion,” says Gaschk. Their poor physical condition also makes them more susceptible to diseases, from which they die more easily.
However, this strategy is only worthwhile if the animals produce numerous offspring: pygmy quolls give birth to between five and eight young animals per litter, which then do not have to compete with the males for food or territory – and can therefore reinvest their resources in mating .
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The original of this post “When sex is more important than sleep, this often ends in death!” comes from Spektrum.de.