A small, endangered marsupial is literally dying for sex.

The male northern quoll, a carnivorous mammal about the size of a small house cat, walks so far and sleeps so little in his desperate search for a female that he may be causing his own early death, according to a study published Wednesday.

The quoll lives in parts of western and northern Australia and is known for its unusual mating habits. Males are so-called suicidal breeders who die after just one mating season, while females continue to live and reproduce for up to four years.

Now new research from two Australian teams, at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Queensland, has shed light on why that may be.

The researchers attached small packs with trackers to male and female quolls on Groote Eylandt, a large island off the coast of Australia’s Northern Territories, and found striking differences in the behavior of males and females.

A machine learning algorithm was then used to analyze more than 76 hours of recorded footage and predict quoll behavior over a 42-day period.

Their findings, published in the Royal Society for Open Sciencesthey suggest that males become so exhausted that they can’t find enough food or stay alert enough to predators.

One male, which the researchers named Moimoi, walked 6.5 miles in one night in search of a mate, a distance equivalent to an average-sized human walking up to 24 miles, the researchers said.

Joshua Gaschk, who led the study, said in a statement: «Sleep deprivation and associated symptoms over a prolonged period would make recovery impossible and could explain the causes of death recorded in males after the breeding season.

“They become easy prey, unable to avoid vehicle collisions or just dying of exhaustion.”

The health risks of sleep deprivation in rodents are well-documented, and the quolls the researchers studied were found to lose weight, become aggressive, and display reckless behavior.

To make finding a mate even more problematic, male quolls’ appearance is affected and they attract increased numbers of parasites due to lack of grooming, the study found.

Various other animals, including some fish and insects, put all their energy into a single breeding season, a process known as semelparity, but the quoll is the largest mammal known to do so.

A northern quoll at Alyangula in the Northern Territory of Australia. Male quolls suffer from sleep deprivation which leads to reckless behaviour. Kaylah Del Simone / AFP – Archive Getty Images

Jack Ashby, deputy director of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, England, and an expert on Australian mammals who was not involved in the quoll study, explained that all animals incur a cost to their own bodies and long-term survival to produce his young. Typically, these costs are weighted equally over the lifetime of the parents.

«Suicidal breeding males, which among mammals is a strategy that has evolved more than once in marsupials, but in no other group, have taken this commitment to the extreme, literally sacrificing everything for a breeding event,» he told NBC. News by email. .

“’Live fast, die young’ is certainly the way of being for these species. However, that maxim usually ends, ‘…and leaves an attractive corpse.’ This is definitely not what happens here.»

During Ashby’s own fieldwork in Australia’s northern monsoon forests, he said he found male northern quolls towards the end of their short breeding window. “They are going bald, covered in scabs, sores, ticks and other parasites; it is clear that their bodies are shutting down,” she said.

«It certainly makes sense that the efforts they put into finding a mate during this period would lead to a lack of sleep and less time to care for themselves in general, as this new study suggests,» he added.

Christofer Clemente, one of the researchers behind the study, said the quoll’s future is threatened, but not by mating.

“Its conservation status is: Endangered (Declining population), mainly due to habitat loss, along with the introduction of invasive species such as dogs, cats, foxes and cane toads,” he said.

The team wants to continue their work and look at the effects of sleep deprivation in other Australasian marsupial mammals, such as opossums and Tasmanian devils.

A cane toad weighing almost 6lbs was recently found in northern Australia and named «Toadzilla».