Endangered animal giving up sleep for sex – but bonking is killing it off

An endangered animal could be dying out because it is giving up sleep for more sex, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland, Australia, published research into male northern quolls today (Wednesday, February 1).

They found that the marsupials travel long distances in search of mating partners, giving up sleep to secure sex.

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Scientists reckon the lack of rest could explain why the males mate themselves to death after one breeding season, whereas females can live and reproduce for up to four years.

Researchers landed on this theory after tracking male and female northern quolls on Groote Eylandt, an island off the coast of Australia's Northern Territory.

They fitted tracking backpacks to the tiny animals and watched where they roamed over 42 days.

Male quolls only rested for about 8% of the time, whereas females did for 24%. One male travelled 10km in one night – the equivalent of around 40km in human distance.

"They cover large distances to mate as often as possible and it seems that their drive is so strong that they forgo sleeping to spend more time searching for females," said Christofer Clemente, senior lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast

"The males are investing all this energy into… looking for the females, because that’s how they maximise their reproductive output. But they’re just not resting in between.

"By the end of the breeding season, these quolls just look terrible. They start to lose their fur, they start to not be able to groom themselves efficiently, they lose weight and… they’re constantly fighting with each other as well."

The study also found that the males attracted more parasites – the likely reason being they spent less time grooming and more time bonking.

Researchers added that males were not as vigilant as females while searching for food or avoiding predators.

Joshua Gaschk, the study's lead author, said: "Sleep deprivation, and associated symptoms for a prolonged duration would make recuperation impossible and could explain the causes of death recorded in the males after breeding season."

He added that further research is needed to say for sure.

Male quolls weigh around 600g and can grow to be around the size of a small cat.

According to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, there are around 100,000 left but the population is "undergoing rapid decline".

They are deemed endangered on mainland Australia.

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