Sometimes it’s tough being a guy. Sometimes it’s really, really tough.
Take the kaluta, for example. It’s a mousy marsupial living in Australia. A cute little fellow with big black eyes, a button nose and oversized ears. It eats bugs, doesn’t create plastic litter and generally minds its own business – after all, it weighs about as much as a lightbulb.
But the kaluta boys have a problem – they die shortly after mating. According to recent research, they’re so frenetic they literally wear themselves out. For them, “sex is suicide,” according to a story in The New York Times.
We’re treading on eggshells, to some extent, in bringing this to light. “Male problems” have generally not been discussed in the popular media, and some people would just as soon leave it that way. But with Viagra, Cialis and a wide variety of herbal “cures” for impotence being tooted on the airwaves in recent years, the subject is out in the open and not likely to be shoved back under the bed.
So, to bring men (and interested women) up to date on the latest developments, be it known that no matter how bad you think your bedroom problem is, it could be worse.
The male kaluta is what scientists call “semelparous”, which means it drops dead soon after it mates. It’s behavior that’s rare in the animal kingdom, but appropriate to a few species that live in very harsh conditions.
Dr. Genevieve Hayes, a vertebrate ecologist who led the team that confirmed the kalutas’ behavior, noted that the little mammals only mate during one annual, “highly synchronized” season. They have just a two-week period in early September when the resources in their environment are abundant enough to support amorous activity.
“During these brief, frenzied breeding seasons, male kalutas mate with several females — for up to 14 hours at a time — until they succumb to exhaustion and die,” the Times reported.
“It’s an inevitable death from chronic stress,” explained Christopher Dickman, a professor of terrestrial ecology at the University of Sydney. “The precise cause … is usually ulceration of the gut track,” he said. “They’ll be leaking blood into their body and begin to suffer organ collapse.”
But living their short lives so fast and so loose gives the males the best chance of passing their genes on to the next generation of kalutas. And that, we’ve learned, is Nature’s aim in reproduction and natural selection. That’s what makes life an onward and upward endeavor.
So is there anything for humans to learn from this study, and all the other bits and pieces of research into the nuances of animal behavior? Is this knowledge about the kaluta just a curiosity, a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” factoid, or is it another piece of the puzzle of life?
The more we know about the world around us, the more we know about ourselves and about how we fit in. We can appreciate the subtlety and complexity of the natural world we come from and ultimately depend on.
“Breakthrough” science gets the headlines, but the gradual accumulation of knowledge through small studies prepares the ground or confirms the fact. In farming, I’ve learned to appreciate the cumulative knowledge gained by government-funded agricultural research at land grant and private universities. I’m benefitting from meteorology’s growing understanding of climate change and the devastating effects it’s bringing.
The trashing of science now going on by the Trump administration is unfathomable. Are these people in their right minds? They seem as frenetic in their attempt to undo good work as the kaluta is to produce young. Let’s hope the little Australian mouse succeeds and the critters in Washington, the ones gnawing away at our science, fail. Let them live on — but somewhere else.