Silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) in Kroombit Tops National Park. © Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

Silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) in Kroombit Tops National Park. © Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

5 Fun facts about the silver-headed antechinus

25 Aug 2021

Keywords
  • queensland
  • threatened species
  • bushfire
  • Regenerate Australia

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Are your testosterone levels too high? Are your testes super-sized? When you have sex, does your body pump your system full of the stress hormone cortisol, causing internal bleeding, hair loss and blindness? Do you, despite all this, continue to look for females to mate with, even though you know you’ll eventually die because of it.

 

If you answered yes to all of the above, you’re probably a male silver-headed antechinus, aka a suicidal reproducer. If you answered yes to some of the above, it might be worth seeking professional help.

 

Silver-headed antechinus in Blackdown National Park © Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

 

Aside from their suicidal breeding habits, there’s a lot to learn about this small shrew-like marsupial, pushed to the brink of extinction by the 2019-20 megafires.

 

For a start, they’re one of the rarest mammals Australia has to offer. Plus:

 

1. They’re tiny

At only 9-12cm in length, the silver-headed antechinus is one of the smallest marsupials in the world. Coming in at only slightly bigger than a business card, it’s no wonder there are so few silver-headed antechinus on LinkedIn. And it’s no wonder they’re so hard to find anywhere else for that matter.

 

Silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) found in Bulburin National Park, Queensland after fears the species had been pushed to the brink of extinction during the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-20. © WWF-Australia / Queensland Aerials

Silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) found in Bulburin National Park, Queensland after fears the species had been pushed to the brink of extinction during the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-20. © WWF-Australia / Queensland Aerials

 

2. They’re meat eaters

Despite being so little, they boast an impressive set of teeth which they use to eat spiders, cockroaches, beetles and other bugs they find scurrying around in the thick vegetation they call home.

 

3. A recent discovery

Until 2013 we had no idea this particular species of antechinus existed. This means that we discovered this tiny meat-eating marsupial in our backyard in the same year we discovered there were billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy, how to make organs from stem cells and the word ‘bingeable’. That’s very recent history indeed.

 

4. They’re suicidal reproducers

Yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) mating. Though it is not the silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) the mating behaviour is similar. © Andrew Baker / QUT
Yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) mating. Though it is not the silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) the mating behaviour is similar. © Andrew Baker / QUT

 

During the mating season, the males system is pumped with so much cortisol that it can go blind, lose hair and even bleed internally. Despite all this it will continue to mate until it inevitably dies.

 

Either the survival of the species is more important to it than its own survival, or it’s just really thirsty and desperate to make love.

 

5. Megafires are changing its habitat

The silver-headed antechinus is usually found in the wet eucalypt and rainforests of three national parks in central Queensland. Sadly the devastating bushfires of 2019-20 wiped out about 80% of its habitat in the species stronghold in Bulburin National Park.

 

With predictions of drying and more intense fires due to climate change, now, more than ever, we’re going to have to work hard to save this tiny meat-eating suicidal reproducer – and one way we can start is through the Regenerate Australia initiative.

 

Regenerate Australia is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history. The multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-20 bushfires, and help future-proof Australia against the impacts of changing climate. Find out more at www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/regenerate-australia

 

Join us on our mission to Regenerate Australia, and we’ll plant a native tree on your behalf. One Signature = One Tree Planted.

 

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