Female pandas can discern the love calls of different suitors

June 17th, 2009 - 1:59 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 17 (ANI): An American researcher has shown that female giant pandas can tell one male’s love calls from those of others, taking the first step towards proving that females among the animals use these bleats to choose their mates.

Ben Charlton, a biologist at Zoo Atlanta, says that this finding attains significance as a gaining a better understanding of how females pick their mates might help zoos breed the notoriously picky and endangered animals.

Studies conducted in the past have shown that scent plays a critical role in female choice.

However, Charlton says, the male’s bleat may also be involved in panda mating rituals, since males produce them far more frequently during breeding season, and females often respond back with chirps of their own.

The researcher worked with captive animals at China’s Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda, and played audio recordings of bleats of different males to females.

Charlton played six consecutive calls from one male to determine whether females could tell one bleat from another, followed by the call of a second male, then another call from the first male.

It was observed that after each successive call, females tended to spend less and less time looking for the male suitor.

However, when a different male’s call blared out, females’ ears perked up and they spent significantly more time looking toward an audio speaker 20 metres away, compared to the previous call.

Critically, a repeat of the first panda’s call again elicited less interest.

Charlton says that the females’ renewed interest in the novel bleat indicated that they could tell the difference between the calls of two males.

The researcher adds that the pitch the calls didn’t seem to make a difference for female pandas.

Charlton, however, has not yet proved that females use these bleats to choose their mate.

According to Charlton, the ability to discriminate calls could help females avoid Johnny-come-latelies who haven’t paid their dues.

“I think there’s also female preference for more familiar males because they are likely to be of higher quality given that they have out-competed other males,” New Scientist magazine quoted the researcher as saying.

Charlton is also of the opinion that mimicking this familiarity in zoos could also encourage unwilling pairs of pandas to mate.

A research article on this study has been published in the journal Biology Letters. (ANI)

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