Giant pandas are by nature solitary animals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t well-versed in the language of love.
Far from it. When spring arrives and these giant creatures get frisky, effective communication is one of biggest turn-ons. And these pandas know exactly how to express their interest.
By recording giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) before, during and after sex, a team of US and Chinese scientists has illustrated just how crucial vocal exchanges are when it comes to mating.
The research was based on the recordings of 23 captive adult giant pandas living near Sichuan, China, collected during the breeding seasons of 2016 and 2018.
While this creature’s bleating is the most conspicuous sound it makes, the findings reveal a complex mating repertoire that relies on a whole range of calls.
“While chirping is relatively uncommon in males, both sexes also produce barks, moans, roars, growls and squeals when they interact with other conspecifics,” the authors write.
Each one of these noises can be used in a different context and for a different purpose. What’s more, depending on the pitch, length and pattern, these vocalisations can convey everything from interest, identity, size, sex and hormonal quality.
The findings reveal that synchronising these sounds is a key part of two pandas mating.
For instance, when two pandas are just getting to know each other, they use long, drawn-out bleats, which are ‘nonaggressive’ calls that encourage close contact.
If copulation is successful, however, those noises change. These are a little bit softer, whispered into the ear during intercourse in what the researchers have described as a sort of love song.
But if the two pandas decide they are incompatible, the chatter is far more aggressive. Instead of hearing bleats, chirps and squeals, the pandas will bark, roar and moan – clear signs that the date is not going well.
By picking out patterns in these mating calls, researchers from the San Diego Zoo and the China Research and Conservation Centre for the Giant Panda are hoping to improve the current success rate of breeding programs.
Giant pandas are a vulnerable species and they currently occupy a small fraction of the land that they once used to roam.
Given their dangerously low numbers and low birth rate in the wild, breeding programs are a vital part of their continued existence.
If conservation managers can interpret the mating calls of giant pandas, they may be able to better predict which blind dates will lead to copulation and which are destined for failure.
This study has been published in the Royal Society Open Science.