Immaculate Anteater Conception: Did A Miracle Occur At Connecticut Conservation Center?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 17, 2013 2:23 PM EDT

Anteater
Officials at a Connecticut conservation center are unsure how a mysterious anteater baby was born. The "immaculate conception" occurred when Armani, the mother, had no male contact. (Photo: Reuters)

An anteater in a Connecticut conservation center has given birth to not only a baby, but to quite a mystery.

Officials at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich are scratching their heads over how the anteater (named Armani, because this is Greenwich, after all) gave birth to a mysterious baby after having no male anteater contact for months. Some have dubbed the miraculous birth an immaculate conception.

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After Armani gave birth to a first baby in August, the father, Alf, was removed from her enclosure, because male anteaters tend to kill their young. Armani had no contact with Alf after August, yet eight months later, she gave birth to a male, Archie. Anteaters have a six-month gestation period.

Marcella Leone, founder and director of the conservation center, hypothesized that it might be a case of delayed implantation -- a fertilized egg remaining dormant in the uterus for a while.

But Stacey Belhumeur, a zookeeper at Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz., said that while delayed implantation has been seen in marsupials, it wasn't likely in giant anteaters. According to Belhumeur, Armani's entire uterus should have cleared out of everything after giving birth -- even a second undeveloped embryo.

Dr. Margarita Woc-Colburn, an associate veterinarian at the Nashville Zoo, said that some scientific papers discuss an animal's body pausing a pregnancy until environmental conditions are favorable.

"As far as I know, there's been nothing documented of one pause versus another," Woc-Colburn said. "That's not to say it could not happen."

Belhumeur put forth a theory that is far less mysterious: like teenage lovers forbidden by their parents to see one another, Armani and Alf may just have found a way to meet up.  

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

But Leone said she didn't think that had happened. She admitted that there is a shared fence line between enclosures, but Armani and Alf "should not have been sharing that fence line during that time."

However the baby anteater was conceived, Armani and Archive are healthy and well.

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