The Marsupial That Sexes Itself to Death
Antechinus may sound like a tragic hero of Greek mythology, but it's actually the name of a small Australian marsupial, a little like a cross between a mouse and a shrew.
In a way, I suppose it is a tragic hero of its own tale.
You see, the male Antechinus got screwed over by evolution, so he decided to screw right back.
This unassuming little critter performs the ultimate self-sacrifice when it comes to passing on his genes; when he says he will "die for love" he means it. Love-making, anyway...
A virgin until almost his first birthday, the male then has a short window when females are fertile, and boy does he take advantage. He can "perform" for up to 12 hours at a time, and over the next few weeks he'll keep at it, with multiple females, until bits literally start falling off.
His body ramps up the production of free corticosteroids, which supress his immune system and give him ulcers, but "maximise his reproductive effort." Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
By the end of the breeding season, most males will be tuckered out and, with their bodies failing, they will die.
Why does this little fella sex himself to death?
Well, it's thought that he wouldn't survive until the next breeding season anyway, so he might as well go all-in during this short window. This strategy gives him the best chance of passing on his genes. (Although Junior will sadly be raised in a single parent household.)
One thing's for sure - the Antechinus gives new meaning to "going out with a bang."
Want to know more about the weird and wonderful love lives of the Animal Kingdom? Book number two is in the works... Subscribe to the Coopeywriting email list for updates.