May 17, 2013

the case of the mystery pup

A veritable anteater mystery is unfolding in Greenwich, Connecticut. A story in today's Greenwich Time recounts the birth of a new giant anteater who was completely unexpected by the host zoo's caretakers. Here's the scoop: The new pup's mother, Armani, gave birth to a young female pup last August. Since male giant anteaters are known to sometimes kill their own offspring, the pup's father, Alf, was immediately separated from Armani and her baby. Months later, Armani and Alf were reunited. But last month, zookeepers at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center were surprised one morning to find Armani with yet another newborn pup, this time a male, in the anteater enclosure.

Giant anteaters don't "show" their pregnancy very much, and the timing was such that the birth seemed to defy logic: Armani had not, to anyone's knowledge, been anywhere near Alf, her male companion, in October, when the new baby must have been conceived. (The gestational period for giant anteaters is six months.)

The news media has been having a field day with the idea that this might have been an "immaculate conception." Of course, there must be some other explanation, but what could it be?

Marcella Leone, founder and director of the LEO Conservation Center, has suggested it might have been a rare case of delayed implantation, a situation in which a fertilized egg doesn't immediately begin normal division and implantation in a mother's uterus. If this were the case, Alf would have fertilized two of Armani's eggs at the same time, with one developing during the normal timeline to produce the female pup last August, and the other taking a while to develop into the newer male pup.

Anteater experts have so far reacted to this hypothesis with some skepticism.

"I am extremely dubious about the delayed implantation theory, especially with a birth in the middle of the timeline," says Marie Magnuson, an anteater keeper at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Magnuson has overseen the birth of three giant anteaters.

I've got to think it's also possible that someone at the conservation center accidentally brought the pair together before they were supposed to, and simply never said anything about it. Males and females don't take long to mate, so it could have happened pretty quickly.

We may never know the truth behind this giant anteater mystery. But how wonderful that there are now two pups thriving in southwestern Connecticut! Here's wishing them both long, healthy lives. •>~

Photo of mating anteaters courtesy of Tracey Barnes