- The dusky antechinus is a small, brown mammal closely related to kangaroos
- Males sacrifice hours of sleep to make more time for sex during mating season
They might look cute and cuddly, but these male marsupials are the lotharios of the animal kingdom.
Researchers have discovered the male dusky antechinus – a small, brown mammal closely related to kangaroos – sacrifices hours of sleep per night to make more time for sex during the mating season.
And it appears they go out with a bang, as they die very shortly after.
A team from La Trobe University in Melbourne tracked the marsupials’ movements and measured things such as heart rate to check when they were sleeping.
During the non-mating season the antechinus dozed for around 15 hours per day, made up of thousands of sleep ‘episodes’.
They might look cute and cuddly, but these male marsupials are the lotharios of the animal kingdom
Remarkably, the scientists found the small mammals slept on average for three hours less per day, every day, for three weeks during the mating season.
One male even halved his sleeping time in order to have sex with as many females as possible.
John Lesku, who led the research, said: ‘The males have one shot at fathering offspring during a single three-week mating period.
‘We found that male, but not female, dusky antechinuses become restless during their only breeding season.’
If things weren’t hard enough, males only live for one year and reproduce once in their lifetime. They typically die at the same time right after their short and intense mating season.
The researchers suggest that the bizarre creatures are somehow able to thrive on less sleep during this time – or simply accept the downsides of staying awake to improve their chances of fathering offspring.
If a human lost the equivalent amount of sleep over this extended period of time they would feel as though they were drunk, the team explained.
Researchers have discovered the male dusky antechinus – a small, brown mammal closely related to kangaroos – sacrifices hours of sleep per night to make more time for sex during the mating season
Erika Zaid, who also worked on the study, said: ‘In humans and other animals, restricting the normal amount of sleep leads to worse performance while awake, an effect that compounds night after night.
‘And yet, the antechinus did just that.
‘It’s actually a little surprising that these animals do not sacrifice even more sleep during the breeding season, since they will soon die anyways.’
While it is not clear what causes males to die after the breeding season, the researchers don’t suspect that sleep loss alone is the reason.
That’s because the males they recorded as sleeping the least were not the ones in the worst condition, they said.
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.