Rare mouse-like Australian animal survived wildfires

Yellow-footed antechinus, photo: Albert Wright via Canva
Yellow-footed antechinus, photo: Albert Wright via Canva

The silver-headed antechinus, a rare Australian animal whose males live less than a year before dying of frantic sex, appears to have survived recent wildfires, researchers said Monday. 

The mouse-like animal was declared endangered as soon as it was discovered in 2013. 

In 2019, wildfires swept through the Bulburin National Park in Queensland, eastern Australia, one of only three known antechinus habitats left in Australia.  

Scientists used detection dogs to sniff out the best areas to place traps or sensor cameras to find the animals. 

“We found 21 individuals across burnt and unburnt habitat, which is great. It means they are persisting,” said Andrew Baker of the Queensland University of Technology. 

With one-third of their habitat burned, Baker said he had feared finding no antechinus left alive. 

Males of the species are known to die of stress before their first birthday after a frantic two-week mating period, Baker told AFP news agency. 

“They get flooded with cortisol during the breeding season, and ultimately it poisons them,” Baker said. “The males suffer internal bleeding, their hair falls out, sometimes they go blind.” Females rarely survive a third breeding season.

Despite the find, Baker said the outlook for the silver-headed antechinus was risky due to climate change-related droughts and fires. 

They’re also threatened by non-native predators, such as cats, and the destruction of the undergrowth they live in by animals like cows, horses and feral pigs.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia funded the search operation.

“The silver-headed antechinus was only described to science in 2013, was immediately declared endangered, and then hammered by fire. We can’t let its story be ‘discovered today, gone tomorrow’,” WWF Australia’s Daniel Grover, who was part of the search, said.

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