#PandaStory

Follow @SmithsonianZoo on Instagram for our #PandaStory. We're taking you behind-the-scenes of this conservation story, giving you access to what it takes to raise a baby panda. Stay tuned for photos and video via #PandaStory and #InstaScience.

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Have you been on #Bei watch since Aug. 22? Apply to attend the #PandaStory Instameet. Click the link in our profile for all of the details.

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Our favorite shot uploaded to the #PandaStory Flickr group this week courtesy of heights.18145. Because bear hugs.

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Look at those toes! Our favorite panda cam shot from our #PandaStory Flickr album this week was from user partipersian.

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Q: What do we call a giant panda cub sneeze? A: Bei Bei choo! #PandaStory #BeiBei @michelleobama @smithsonian

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Obsessed with the panda cams?Put your totally healthy fascination to good use and help write the newest chapter of our #PandaStory. Thanks to the panda cams sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund, we’re able to share a behind-the-scenes look at the early days of a panda cub’s life in the den with his mom and all the days beyond. If you’re watching the cams, you’re seeing exactly what our panda experts see. Catch a good glimpse of the cub, an especially cute cuddle, or a unique giant panda behavior? Take a screen shot and upload the picture to our #PandaStory Flickr group. http://s.si.edu/1ULyUpT Once a week we’ll share a favorite posted by a panda cam fan. Today's shot comes from Flickr user elizams32! #PandaStory #FordInTheCommunity

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Mei Xiang left her den Saturday afternoon to eat and drink. She ate more bamboo than during her previous excursions away from the den, which is normal. Keepers expect Mei Xiang to gradually spend more time away from the den eating and drinking as the cub grows. While Mei Xiang was eating, veterinarians and keepers took the opportunity to give the cub another quick checkup. He weighed 409.6 grams, which was 119 grams more than he weighed on Sept. 2. His 297 percent weight increase is normal for a cub his age. Cubs at this stage usually gain between 40 and 55 grams per day. Veterinarians also listened to his heart and lungs, which all sounded normal. His eyes are still closed, which is normal. Cubs’ eyes generally open when they are 6 to 8 weeks old. He also had a full belly at the time of the exam and appeared to be healthy. #PandaStory

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Our giant panda cub is a boy, and he was sired by Tian Tian! He is doing well with Mei Xiang, and as of early this morning weighs 139.1 grams. He’s gained about 27.9 grams in the past 72 hours. Mei Xiang starting putting him down last night and trying to leave the den. The first few times she put him down he squealed, so she ran back in and picked him up. She finally left the den to urinate and defecate around 1:40 a.m. and returned to her cub at 1:42 a.m. It is normal for Mei Xiang to start spending short periods of time away from her cub. She will gradually increase her trips outside the den as he grows. When SCBI scientists artificially inseminated Mei Xiang April 26 and April 27, they used frozen and thawed sperm from Hui Hi (a panda living in China) and fresh sperm from Tian Tian. Our panda cub who died Wednesday afternoon was also a male and sired by Tian Tian. #PandaStory

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Our giant panda cubs are doing well but the panda team had a challenging night. When they tried to swap the cubs at 11p.m., Mei Xiang would not set down the cub she had in her possession. Consequently, the panda team cared for the smaller cub throughout the night until 7:05 a.m. when they successfully swapped the cubs. The panda team supplemented the smaller cub with formula by bottle feeding. They were concerned that the smaller cub was not getting enough volume so they moved to tube feeding which went well and quickly. Our goal is for each cub to spend an equal amount of time with their mother. As we’ve stated, the newborn cubs are vulnerable and this first week is incredibly important and the risk remains high. Our team is doing great work around the clock and we’ll continue to keep you posted. #PandaStory #WeSaveSpecies #InstaScience

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Around 6:30 a.m. veterinarians examined the cub Mei Xiang gave birth to at 5:35 p.m. on Aug. 22. Upon exam, this cub is vocalizing well and appears strong. They plan to swap the cubs every three hours if possible. Per the Zoo’s Giant Panda Twin Hand-Rearing protocol, the team has developed a few different strategies and will continue to try different methods of swapping and hand-rearing. Much of that will be dictated by Mei. The panda team will alternately swap the cubs, allowing one to nurse and spend time with Mei while the other is kept warm in an incubator and bottle-fed as necessary. The primary goal for the panda team is for both cubs to have the benefit of nursing and spending time with their mother. It's too early to guess about when the cubs will be placed together. #PandaStory #WeSaveSpecies #InstaScience @smithsonian

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Live streaming our giant panda twins press conference on @Periscope right now. #PandaStory #InstaScience #WeSaveSpecies @smithsonian

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Veterinarians detected something new during an ultrasound on Mei Xiang this morning. Our team believes it’s a giant panda fetus. If the pregnancy continues to be viable and based on the size of the fetus, which is about four centimeters, vets estimate that Mei could give birth between Aug. 28 and mid-Sept. Although vets confirmed a fetus on an ultrasound it’s still possible that Mei Xiang could resorb it or the fetus could be stillborn. Scientists do not fully understand why some mammals resorb fetuses. The Zoo’s panda team is monitoring Mei through the Zoo’s panda cams and we’re officially on a 24-hour #cubwatch. Mei is continuing to spend more time in her den, sleeping more, body licking and cradling objects—all behaviors consistent with a pregnancy and pseudopregnancy. #pandastory #InstaScience

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The next chapter in #PandaStory has officially begun. Our scientists confirmed that Mei Xiang’s levels of urinary progesterone are rising. That means she will give birth to a cub, or experience the final stages of a pseudopregnancy in 30 to 50 days. The only way to definitively confirm if Mei is actually pregnant is to detect a fetus on an ultrasound. Our veterinary team will continue to perform ultrasounds twice each week as long as Mei is willing to participate. Even though hormones can’t tell our panda team if Mei is pregnant, hormones can tell them what stage of a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy Mei is in. In the photos above our endocrinologists are running an assay to test the urinary progesterone concentration in Mei’s urine. (The assay can only read a specific range of progesterone concentration, and each urine is different which is why there are so many samples.) Our endocrinologist preps the samples, loads them up for the assay, incubates them for 30 min., and then waits for them to change color. The samples change from blue to yellow. Our spectrophotometer reads hormone concentrations in the yellow range. After the assay is finished our endocrinologists plug the data into a graph and interpret it. Over the weekend it was clear that Mei Xiang’s urinary progesterone levels were rising, and the slow rise had probably started around July 20. #Instascience #WeSaveSpecies

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It’s been 100 days since Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated! Our veterinarians performed another routine ultrasound this morning, but it’s still too early to tell if Mei is pregnant or experiencing a pseudopregnancy. Mei seized the opportunity to play with the ultrasound jelly after the procedure, scent-anointing herself with it around her ears and face. Keepers have noticed a shift in Mei’s behavior over the past week. She is eating significantly less, sleeping significantly more, and nest-building. All of those behaviors are consistent with a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. As a result, our corps of skilled volunteer giant panda behavior watchers are going to start focusing more intensely on Mei. While our volunteers track changes in Mei’s behavior, the panda cams may be focused solely on her at times. However, Bao Bao and Tian Tian will still be on camera! We have not moved to 24-hour #cubwatch yet, that will likely happen later this summer when Mei’s hormones begin to rise. #PandaStory

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Mei's all done for today! It's still too early to tell if she's pregnant, but we'll keep monitoring #PandaStory #InstaScience

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Mei Xiang's ultrasound this morning is just getting started. Follow @NationalZoo on Twitter for a live stream #PandaStory #InstaScience

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We’re still waiting to find out if Mei Xiang is pregnant. This morning our veterinarians performed another ultrasound on Mei. She had a full bladder which helped their view of her uterus! If she is pregnant, it’s still too early to see a developing fetus, but they may be starting to see very early changes in her uterus (which they would see with a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy). As keepers suspected, Mei has not truly started nest-building yet which she made very clear Sunday night by defecating in her den. If she were really nest-building she would keep the den clean. In the wild any smells, like feces could attract predators. Keepers expect that she’ll start nest-building in earnest later this summer. Nest-building is not an indication of pregnancy, as a female will build a nest if she’s pregnant or experiencing a pseudopregnancy. But when Mei starts building a nest, that will tell the panda team that she’s getting closer to the birth of a cub or the end of a pseudopregnancy. #PandaStory #WeSaveSpecies #InstaScience

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Summer has arrived and #PandaStory continues! We still don’t know if Mei Xiang is pregnant or pseudopregnant. (Remember her hormones and behavior will mimic a pregnancy even if she is pseudopregnant!) Over the last few days Mei has started dragging bamboo into her den, but keepers think it’s too early to call this true “nest-building.� In past years she has dragged bamboo into her den, but days or weeks later given keepers a clear sign that she’s not actually nest-building by defecating in her den. When she starts to nest-build for real, she’ll keep the den clean. Building a nest is one of the things Mei Xiang will do if she’s pregnant or experiencing a pseudopregnancy, which is why our vets conduct weekly ultrasounds. Mei had another ultrasound on Tuesday, so our panda team can track changes in her reproductive tract. The only way to definitively determine if a panda is pregnant before she gives birth is to see a fetus on an ultrasound. But they haven't seen anything yet!

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This week's installment of #PandaStory found the panda team back at the training chute for another attempt at an ultrasound. Mei Xiang did not want to participate in an ultrasound last week, so our veterinarians could not see her uterus clearly. This week, she participated and had some fun scent-anointing herself with the ultrasound jelly after the vets finished. It’s still too early to determine if Mei Xiang is pregnant or pseudopregnant, but our panda team wants Mei to be comfortable having regular ultrasounds. They also want to track changes in her uterus. Panda cub gestation lasts between 90 and 180 days, and the fetus only starts to develop a few weeks before birth. Mei Xiang’s hormones and behavior will mimic a pregnancy, even if she is pseudopregnant, so the only definitive way to tell if she is pregnant is with an ultrasound. #WeSaveSpecies #InstaScience

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#PandaStory continues…Mei Xiang had her first ultrasound this morning. Vets weren't looking for a fetus at this early stage, they're tracking changes in Mei's reproductive tract and getting her comfortable having her belly touched. Pandas experience something called a diapause, meaning that even if a female is pregnant the embryo doesn't actually implant into the uterine wall (and start developing) until 17 to 20 days before she gives birth. The panda team will continue to perform ultrasounds—the only definitive way to tell if a panda is pregnant— throughout the summer as Mei chooses to participate. Complicating matters even more, females' hormones and behavior mimic a pregnancy even if they are not pregnant. Today, Mei wasn't very interested in participating in the ultrasound. After lying down in the training chute she sat up before vets had a good look at her uterus. They shifted Mei to her den where she could stand up. But again, after a few minutes, she decided to stop participating. #InstaScience

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What a difference a week makes. Last week Mei and Tian were very vocal and spending lots of time at the mesh howdy door, signaling they were ready to breed. This week not so much. Tian Tian is still displaying breeding behaviors—patrolling, scent-marking and vocalizing—which is to be expected. Male giant pandas can continue to breed over the course of several months. Females, on the other hand, are only capable of conceiving a cub for 24 to 72 hours each year. Yesterday, Mei Xiang was more focused on her biscuits than Tian Tian. We’ll continue to provide updates once a week on all of our pandas through pregnancy watch, which could last until late summer. Keep following #PandaStory!

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Our panda team artificially inseminated Mei Xiang for the second time this morning. They again used frozen-thawed sperm from Hui Hui and refrigerated sperm from Tian Tian collected yesterday. Mei Xiang is recovering well from both procedures. Tian Tian has been very active outside in his yard this morning. The panda house will remain closed for the rest of the day until Mei Xiang has fully recovered. Now the waiting game begins. Mei Xiang's hormones can help us time a #PandaAI but hormones can't tell us if it was successful. A giant panda's hormones and behavior do exactly the same thing if she's pregnant or not. And pregnancy can last anywhere between three and six months. A giant panda embryo floats in the female's uterus for weeks or even months before implanting in the uterine wall. A few weeks before birth it implants and grows exponentially. And then a tiny panda cub is born. #PandaStory #InstaScience

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Our reproductive team is using sperm from Hui Hui and Tian Tian for the 1st #PandaAI. #PandaStory #InstaScience

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And now the panda semen can just chill out here in the endangered sperm bank. #InstaScience #PandaStory

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First planes, now trains. Frozen panda semen on the shuttle to the main terminal, just like everyone else #PandaStory #InstaScience

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Frozen panda semen on a plane. It gets its own storage compartment. #InstaScience #PandaStory

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Let’s talk about panda sex (or perhaps lack thereof). Panda breeding season is a race against the biological clock. It only comes once a year for 24-48 hours, and our giant panda team must be ready. Our female giant panda Mei Xiang should enter estrus before the end of May. The panda team will artificially inseminate her with frozen-thawed semen. This year for the first time, our panda team may use semen collected from a male panda living in China. With only 2,256 pandas on the planet, 392 of which live in human care, genetics play a big role in breeding season. The best genetic match for Mei Xiang happens to be in China. So, what’s a scientist to do when the best genetic match for your female panda is on the other side of the world? Fly frozen semen to the intended female. For the next 24 hours we’ll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at the trip. SBCI scientist Caitlin Burrell is making the trip from the Bifengxia panda base with the cargo. #PandaStory #InstaScience

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