The Australian northern quoll has an alarmingly short lifespan. According to new research, the reason might be an all-consuming obsession with sex.
Male northern quolls, which are house cat-sized marsupials endemic to Australia, tend to die after a single breeding season, whereas females can live for four years or longer in the wild. For years, scientists couldn’t understand why this was happening. After all, many mammals have extreme breeding habits, but few are quite so deadly. Plus, the quoll’s tendency toward an early grave is doubly troubling, given that it’s seriously endangered.
So, scientists decided to look into the matter. Their research involved fitting a handful of quolls with tiny radio-equipped backpacks and tracking them over the course of a breeding season. The findings revealed that the male quolls walked as far as six miles per day looking for females. They only slept two hours each night whereas females tended to rest for about six. After a season of living this way, the males looked haggard and run-down, and they were more likely to get hit by cars or make other fatal errors.
Some other rodents have been known to exhibit similarly exhausting sex drives. However, the quoll is the only one of Australia’s larger marsupials known to breed itself to death within a single season.
While the northern quoll’s endangered status is due primarily to habitat loss and other human causes, this interesting evolutionary quirk certainly isn’t helping. While scientists don’t currently have a plan to intervene, understanding quoll behavior could help wildlife managers come up with strategies to better protect it in the future.