Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Virgin Anteater Birth?

Photo courtesy: CC BY 2.0 Tambako the Jaguar

As if ripped from the pages of some poorly written anteater-themed soap opera, the mystery surrounding a recent birth at a conservation facility in Connecticut is leading some to summon the phrase 'immaculate conception'.

(Dun, dun, duuun.)

However, my die-hard reader will remember that back in 2008, I did a blog about Tidbit the shark who passed on with a fully-developed pup in her womb. The staff at the aquarium who did the autopsy were amazed because Tidbit had not been exposed to a male shark - this was a virgin birth.

Officials at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich say that a giant anteater under their care, with the totally made-up sounding name Armani, was somehow able to bear an offspring despite living without a male companion for nearly a year. Shades of Tidbit.

According to her keepers, Armani had been living with a male up until August of last year, when he was moved out to protect their first-born. Yet somehow, eight months later she had yet another -- and gestation for these animals lasts six months! Gasp!

Armani has some explaining to do. But she is, of course, an anteater, and they're notoriously tight-lipped.

With an absence of any solid explaination, the speculation has begun. Officials considered that Armani may have delayed the development of a previously-fertilized egg, but that has been ruled as unlikely for the species. There are species who reproduce through delayed egg implantation. The female has the ability to retain fertilized eggs until conditions are ideal for reproduction.

Zoologist Stacey Belhumeur has another theory: covert coupling. By all accounts, Armani had no access to her former companion after they were separated, but forbidden lovers tend to find a way regardless -- particularly among the young and the restless.

"My guess is they thought they had him separated," Belhumeur tells the Science Times. "We've seen incredible feats of breeding success. We've had animals breed through fences."

And sure enough, the conservation center admits that Armani and her former (or present) mate do indeed share a fence. Not the most ideal bedding ground, to be sure, but it'll do in a pinch.

Still, it's reassuring to know that both baby and mama are both healthy and well, despite the dubious circumstances that led to the birth.

It's riveting drama, refreshingly free of the cheesy music and awkward product placement that tend to spoil the suspended disbelief on daytime television. Unless, perhaps, you're an ant, in which case this all must be quite terrifying.

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