For Release: February 6, 2004
Contact: Sarah Taylor 202-673-0208
National Zoo Animals Get in the Mood for Valentine's Day
Soft music, a candlelight dinner, chocolates and flowers are all part of human courtship behavior sure to be on display this Valentine's Day. But humans aren't the only species trying to entice prospective mates on this romantic holiday. The creatures of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park are also succumbing to their own animal instincts.
The mood is right for the animals in the National Zoo's hot and steamy rainforest exhibit, Amazonia. Keepers had to separate the stingrays-- a species normally difficult to breed in captivity-- because their prolific mating resulted in too many offspring. Now the males are housed behind the scenes in special bachelor pad tanks. Amazonia's poisonous dart frogs are spending some amorous time together this holiday in their honeymoon huts, halved coconut shells that make for a cave-like enclosure in which the tiny frogs can mate.
Valentine's Day came early for the Zoo's tigers this year. The female and male are usually kept in separate enclosures, but were reunited in late January for mating. Although only together for a brief period of time, tigers are capable of mating up to 50 times in a 24-hour period.
The Zoo's queen naked mole rat doesn't worry about courtship rituals to find a mate. As the only female breeder in the colony, she chooses one male to be her mate, while the rest tend to the duties of maintaining the colony, which in the wild can reach up to 300 members. Much like bees, each mole rat has its own duty such as digging holes, caring for young or foraging for food.
In time for the romantic holiday, the National Zoo's American flamingos have started their spectacular courtship. The whole group participates, puffing up their feathers and strutting together. In captivity, some flamingos pair-bond, mating with the same partner for years, but they have also been known to couple with members of the same sex or even bond in triplicate.
There won't be any mating this Valentine's Day for the Zoo's most famous couple, giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. Pandas only mate in the two-to-three day period surrounding a female panda's annual ovulation. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will hopefully mate sometime in April of this year, and hopes are high that a cub will arrive later this summer.
Founded in 1889, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park exhibits living animal and plant collections that celebrate, study and protect the diversity of animals and their habitats. Each year, nearly three million visitors enjoy the 163-acre park, which is free of charge. The National Zoo is a leading research center for conservation and reproductive biology, with scientists working at the Zoo as well as the 3,200-acre Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. Currently, there are approximately 2,700 animals from 435 species in the Zoo's collection.