The National Zoo Is Hoping to Spark a Love Connection Between Two Sloths

Smithsonian, National Zoo
Smithsonian, National Zoo

The Washington, D.C.-based National Zoo is playing matchmaker for a couple of two-toed sloths. As Smithsonian reports, the zoo acquired a female sloth in December 2019 with a plan to pair her with its longtime resident male. If successful, the new breeding program will mark the first time a sloth has been born at the zoo since 1984.

Athena, a 1.5-year-old sloth from the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas, made her public debut at the National Zoo on December 22. She currently resides in the zoo's Small Mammal House with a pair of golden lion tamarins and a green aracari, a type of toucan.

The new arrival is what the zoo hopes will be one half of a breeding couple. The other half, a 34-year-old sloth named Vlad, has lived at the National Zoo for many years. The zoo had previously tried mating him with a female sloth named Ms. Chips, but they never appeared to hit it off—and if they did, the staff was unaware. Ms. Chips died two years ago without leaving any offspring.

Nurturing a relationship between two sloths is an appropriately slow process. Before they were officially introduced, Athena and Vlad became acquainted with each other's scents when the zoo staff swapped their blankets. The first time they met face to face was through a mesh barrier. If they express interest in spending more time together, the zoo will move them into the same exhibit.

Even if the animals do get along, they won't be welcoming a new baby any time soon. Female sloths don't reach sexual maturity until age 3, so it will be another year and a half before any serious breeding efforts can begin. According to the National Zoo, the sloth's conservation status in the wild is of "least concern." That means the future of the species doesn't hinge on Vlad and Athena's chemistry—but with decades having passed since a sloth was last born there, a newborn member of the species would be a welcome addition to the zoo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Be honest: You’ve watched a YouTube video or two in an attempt to learn how to play a song on the guitar. Whether it was through tabs or simply copying whatever you saw on the screen, the fun always ends when friends start throwing out requests for songs you have no idea how to play. So how about you actually learn how to play guitar for real this time?

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A Prehistoric Great White Shark Nursery Has Been Discovered in Chile

Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
solarseven/iStock via Getty Images

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) may be one of the most formidable and frightening apex predators on the planet today, but life for them isn’t as easy as horror movies would suggest. Due to a slow growth rate and the fact that they produce few offspring, the species is listed as vulnerable to extinction.

There is a way these sharks ensure survival, and that is by creating nurseries—a designated place where great white shark babies (called pups) are protected from other predators. Now, researchers at the University of Vienna and colleagues have discovered these nurseries occurred in prehistoric times.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Jamie A. Villafaña from the university’s Institute of Palaeontology describes a fossilized nursery found in Coquimbo, Chile. Researchers were examining a collection of fossilized great white shark teeth between 5 and 2 million years old along the Pacific coast of Chile and Peru when they noticed a disproportionate number of young shark teeth in Coquimbo. There was also a total lack of sexually mature animals' teeth, which suggests the site was used primarily by pups and juveniles as a nursery.

Though modern great whites are known to guard their young in designated areas, the researchers say this is the first example of a paleo-nursery. Because the climate was much warmer when the paleo-nursery was in use, the researchers think these protective environments can deepen our understanding of how great white sharks can survive global warming trends.