Giant Panda Sex Study: Male Surprises Scientists

© Photo by Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Giant pandas and humans: We're not so different after all. We're not always in the mood at the same time. New research, on pandas, pinpoints exactly how far off the two sexes are when it comes to "gettin' it on."

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is out with what researchers are calling two significant panda studies. And reading the first one may remind you of an old married couple, of humans. Stephen told a story just the other day of an "Awkward Panda Romance" that ended without success. Here's a look at some reasons why. You may chuckle depending on your own love life. Hypothetically.

A few days for girls, six months-plus for boys

According to a paper to be published in Biology of Reproduction:

Researchers have thoroughly studied female panda reproduction and found that a female panda’s estrus cycle occurs only once a year for only 24 to 72 hours.

Until now, no one has extensively studied the male giant panda’s reproductive capacity over time. This study finds that males are reproductively viable for six or more months out of the year, which is significantly longer than females, indicating that the two sexes have evolved very different reproductive strategies.

No doubt. A 24- to 72-hour window for females and six months or more for males. Sounds about right.

'We now have a complete picture'

Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer, lead author of the paper and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's head veterinarian, says "With this information, we now have a complete picture of what is occurring physiologically for both males and females during reproduction.”

The paper is the result of three years of study, with other researchers from the Chengdu Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. They found that male (pandas) have developed the ability to produce sperm over a long period of time to ensure they're ready during the brief time that females are fertile.

Seriously, though, the research is likely to help conservation biologists who are trying to save the fewer than 1,600 giant pandas still left in the mountain forests of central China. Which brings us to a second study by the Institute, published recently in the International Journal of Ecology.

That study "used two different global climate models to find that more than 16,000 square kilometers of giant panda habitat will likely be lost by 2080 as climate change causes giant panda habitat systems to shift to higher elevations and latitudes."

Smithsonian’s National Zoo has a panda cam. But you're unlikely to catch them "in action," unfortunately for the species.

Tags: Animals | China | Endangered Species

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