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No. 82: Jul-Aug 1992

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For some, sex = death

It has long been known that the males of some species of marsupial mice mate in their first year and then die off completely, leaving the perpetuation of their species to their male progeny. Females of these species usually survive to breed a second and even third year. The poor males, however, succumb due to "elevated levels of free corticosteroids in the blood and associated disease such as hemorrhagic ulceration of the gastric mucosa, anemia, and parasite infestation." In short, they seem programmed to die after mating, like the male octopus. And one wonders why evolution has wrought this mass die-off.

In their studies of marsupial mice, C.R. Dickman and R.W. Braithwaite have extended the phenomenon to two new genera: Dasyurus and Parantechinus. They have also found that the phenomenon is a bit more complex. First, in P. apicalis, the male die-off occurs in some populations and not others. In D. hallucatus, the die-off may occur in the same population in some years and not others. Furthermore, the females of this species may on occasion all die off, too -- but after giving birth, of course.

(Dickman, C.R., and Braithwaite, R.W.; "Postmating Mortality of Males in the Dasyurid Marsupials, Dasyurus and Parantechinus," Journal of Mammalogy, 73:143, 1992.)

Reference. The mass die-off after reproduction or "semelparity" is covered in more depth in BMF25 in our catalog: Biological Anomalies: Mammals II. For ordering information, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #82, JUL-AUG 1992. 1992-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987