Could a cub be on the way?
The National Zoo has closed part of its giant panda exhibit because female panda Mei Xiang is spending more time in her den and becoming more sensitive to noise, zoo officials announced Tuesday. But don't get too excited just yet: Those could be signs that the giant panda is entering the final stages of pregnancy... or it could be a pseudopregnancy.
Experts say Mei Xiang is showing strong behaviors of pregnancy or false pregnancy, such as sleeping most of the day, eating less, and spending more time in her den, but they can't be sure whether she is actually pregnant.
The only way to confirm a panda is pregnant is with an ultrasound, although panda fetuses can still be extremely difficult to detect. However, Mei has refused to participate in the two most recent ultrasound attempts.
Scientists say that's normal for her, and keepers are allowing Mei to rest and do (or not do) whatever she likes.
Veterinarians have been tracking Mei Xiang's hormones since she was artificially inseminated April 26 and 27. They'll attempt another ultrasound only if she is willing.
The zoo's panda cams will also continue to track Mei's behaviors during the next few weeks.
The panda team said Mei becomes very sensitive to noise during the final phase of a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. The team decided to close the exhibit surrounding Mei Xiang's den to reduce noise and increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
For now, the world will just have to wait and see.
Mei Xiang has previously given birth to four cubs, two of whom survived: Tai Shan, who was born in 2005 and now lives in China, and 2-year-old Bao Bao, who still lives at the National Zoo. A cub born in 2012 lived for just a week. Another cub, Bao Bao's twin, was stillborn.
Visitors can still see Bao Bao and her father, Tian Tian, outside the den (usually in the mornings) and keep up with the Mei Xiang's status by following the zoo's Instagram account, @smithsonianzoo and searching the hashtags #PandaStory and #InstaScience.