Friday, October 29, 2010

The Zoo's Anteater Is Expecting

Photo by James Strain
This just in from one of the National Zoo's staff, Marie Magunson. We may soon see a baby anteater. Thanks to Sue Ruff in Cleveland Park for alerting us to this soon-to-be exciting news.

Well, Maripi is still pregnant! The earliest possible due date of October 2 has come and gone. We are continuing to do weekly ultrasounds on her, and the baby is active with a strong heartbeat of about 100 beats per minute. We can clearly see its bones as they become more mineralized with the tiny vertebrae looking like a string of pearls. Last week we even got a pretty good look at the very distinctive skull. You can't confuse an anteater's skull with any other animal's skull!
You might be wondering: if we can ultrasound Maripi, why can't we say when the baby will be born? An obstetrician knows when a human baby will be born. Why isn't it the same with anteaters?
It's because we have so few examples of anteater ultrasounds to compare it to. One of the reasons we examine Maripi every week is to increase the amount of data on these animals. The more pregnancies that can be documented with ultrasound here and at other zoos, the better we will be able to predict the birthing dates of future pregnancies. Once the pup is born, we will be able to count back from the birth date and say, "Four weeks before the birth the head was this long" and "We were able to distinguish the vertebrae this long before the birth." Unlike the millions of records on human pregnancies, there are just not enough examples of giant anteaters we can compare to say with any certainty. A human obstetrician has a mountain of data to draw upon. Our vets have a tiny mole hill. That's why all three of Maripi's pregnancies have been documented. We are very lucky to have such a cooperative, easy-going girl.
The baby is not always very cooperative. Sometimes we see a skull and vertebrae, and sometimes we see feet!
So we, like Maripi, will just have to wait. Maripi will continue to eat (and sleep!) for two. The keepers and vets will continue to monitor her closely and maybe spoil her just a little.

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