A Dan Brown-worthy mystery (forget about Dante, what about the zoo?) is as follows: Staffers at a zoological conservation center in Greenwich, Conn., are very confused — as are the rest of us — because their female giant anteater, Armani, has managed to conceive a baby, apparently without the presence of a male anteater. What?
It all started in August, writes Lisa Chamoff for Greenwich Time. Armani, an anteater at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center, had given birth to anteater baby girl Alice. Alice's father, Alf, was kept away from Armani and Alice because male anteaters have a bad history of committing infanticide. And then one April morning, a zoo staffer entered Armani's abode and found ... another baby. Chamoff explains, "The sudden appearance of little Archie was a surprise, to say the least. The gestation period for anteaters is six months. Armani and Alf had not been back together long enough to do what they needed to do to put the cycle of life into gear a second time."
Hypotheses began to fly about the conservation center and beyond. Some people thought it was "immaculate anteater conception" (though probably no one really thought that).* Or that "Alf had somehow gotten the keys to Armani's pen one night in October." Another explanation has been posited by the founder and director of the center, Marcella Leone, who believes that Archie "might have been a case of delayed implantation, when fertilized eggs remain dormant in the uterus for a period of time." Anteater-similar mammals like sloths and armadillos have demonstrated delayed implantation — and yet, still, there is mystery: "some experts say they've never seen a second embryo implant after a mammal has just given birth," and that such a thing would be unlikely in giant anteaters.
The anteater experts themselves are at a loss. "Dr. Margarita Woc-Colburn, an associate veterinarian at the Nashville Zoo, which has one of the largest collections of giant anteaters in the country, said some scientific papers have mentioned the scenario in which an animal's body pauses a pregnancy until environmental conditions are right," writes Chamoff. Stacey Belhumeur, a Tucson, Arizona, zookeeper and species survival plan coordinator for the North American population of giant anteaters, suspects that the baby's origins are far simpler, though. "My guess is they thought they had him separated ... We've had animals breed through fences." Leone says her anteater charges should not have been sharing a fence line at the time that this pregnancy would have occurred — but were they? Was this a case of delayed implantation? Or is it something far more miraculous?
Unfortunately, unless the anteaters themselves 'fess up, there appears to be no way to prove what actually happened. It's an anteater mystery for the ages.
*As has been pointed out to me, the "immaculate conception" refers to Mary being free from original sin upon her conception and not Mary being a virgin upon Jesus's birth. It appears to have been used in the latter way in Chamoff's piece and at the zoo.
The photo above is of the Smithsonian National Zoo's giant anteater, Maripi, and her son, Pablo. Pablo was not conceived under mysterious conditions.