The Mating Game

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Maybe there isn’t much spontaneity and romance involved in dating and mating at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where Cupid consults a studbook and matches animals based on numerous factors—genetics being the most important—instead of leaving it to starry-eyed lovers and controls for optimum breeding environments. But, the game is oddly familiar.

There will be "clingers"

Talk about needy. A male Panamanian golden frog clings to its mate for 120 days—count ‘em 1-2-0 days—in order to breed with her. The species is now extinct in the wild, but the National Zoo is one of six zoos in North America to have a breeding program.

Girls will be catty

Female cheetahs check out males – not vice versa – as they parade down what’s called "lover’s lane" at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center for cheetahs in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. But the females are territorial and like to keep their distance from competitors. Scientists have found that if two females are housed together, one or both will shut down ovulation, preventing any breeding.

Play hard to get

If withholding eggs isn’t playing hard to get, what else is it? But other animals certainly know how to set high standards for the right time and place. The kori bustard, a large African bird, requires the right male-to-female ratio in its midst and a secluded spot in flat, savanna-like terrain to lay its eggs. The National Zoo has been swapping real eggs with a "telemetric" one to learn more. (See the October issue’s "Hatching a New One.")

Sometimes dessert sounds better than doing the deed

Hercules beetles usually get busy at night, but researchers have found that they often lose interest when in captivity. So what trumps mating? Eating. And the debate between which is better, making whoopee or eating whoopie pie goes on…

Distance can make the heart grow fonder

So maybe there’s no way of proving that their hearts grow fonder, but the Zoo’s female panda and one of their elephants are hoping to prove that long distance relationships can work. Both have been artificially inseminated with sperm from males at different facilities.

(Photograph courtesy of the National Zoo)

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