Earlier this week, the Smithsonian National Zoo live-tweeted their most recent attempt to knock up a giant panda. You can read the whole thing at Storify. And, seriously people, you should read it. I originally intended to just post a short link to this, almost as a joke, but it turns out that the process of inseminating a giant panda is actually really interesting.
Besides the photos, which are great, and the revelation that it takes 15-20 people to properly oversee the process (insert obvious jokes here), the Storify contains a lot of neat behind-the-scenes details about what it's like to perform a medical procedure on a large animal. You'll also learn a thing or two about the panda reproductive process.
Fun fact: Female pandas are only fertile for about 24-72 hours, once a year. Miss that window, and you get no baby pandas. Of course, hitting the window doesn't mean you will get baby pandas. Pregnancy doesn't just happen when you put sperm in the right place at the right time. For instance, the average female human has, on her most fertile day of the month,a 9% chance of getting pregnant. (For the record, I knew the chances were surprisingly low, but even then I was surprised to learn just how low.)
The National Zoo has inseminated Mei Xang the panda for eight years in a row. Without success.
Given that, the famously low birth rate among giant pandas starts to make more sense. Especially when you consider the fact that captive males don't seem to know, instinctively, how to have sex—and without other males around to show them, they often just don't do it at all, or fail to do it correctly.
Via Wendee Holtcamp
Image: Yes, those are tubes of frozen panda sperm. Photo courtesy the Smithsonian National Zoo Twitter account.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.