As Shrew Like It

Relationships are hard, but in the animal kingdom things can be even more difficult when trying to find a mate. There isn’t an app to download or a site to upload a profile to, and even when you do start dating, there’s still the chance you won’t make a connection. For animals like the Virginia Zoo’s treeshrews, mating is even more complex than just meeting up for coffee. That’s where the Species Survival Plan comes in.

The Virginia Zoo participates in a Species Survival Plan ® (SSP) for Northern treeshrews. This program is run by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and oversees and manages species’ population in zoos by pairing individuals and monitoring breeding to maximize genetic diversity and long-term sustainability of populations. In the SSP, individuals are paired together and Keepers follow specific guidelines to ensure successful breeding, however even in perfect conditions, it can take multiple attempts for the animals to successfully breed.

Tyrion (left) and Patty (right) are introduced to each other in this neutral space with the hopes the pair will breed.

First and foremost, female treeshrews are a territorial and so Zoo Keepers have to make sure the male does not encroach on the female’s territory. Instead, our female, known as Patty, is transferred into male Tyrion’s habitat. Meanwhile, Keepers do a deep clean of Patty’s habitat to ensure her scent is fully removed before opening up both spaces for the treeshrews to explore. This also includes remodeling the habitats and removing Patty’s nest box, which she is very protective over. Once the two are introduced to each other in these neutral spaces, Keepers allot the pair around 35 days of time together, which offers ample opportunities for getting to know each other and…mating!

Gestation for treeshrews (between 40 – 52 days) is factored into the timeline, so Keepers usually separate the two individuals before gestation is over. After 60 total days, Keepers will then have to make a decision whether or not to pair Patty and Tyrion again, which is ultimately determined by the presence of a baby. Unfortunately, the last breeding attempts between Tyrion and Patty were unsuccessful, so Keepers will have to repeat the process again. It truly is a waiting game (of thrones)!

Brenda was born to mom Patty and a different father in early 2019. Keepers checked the nest box daily for signs of a birth and then discovered a baby treeshrew.

So what will be done differently once a pregnancy is confirmed? Unfortunately, there is no exact way to determine if Patty is pregnant other than a slight weight gain and even if she were to have babies, treeshrews are known to only enter the nest box once every 48 hours for nursing. Keepers can only plan to separate the two according to their timeline, then quickly begin checking the nest box daily. They may also be able to observe Patty moving nesting materials into the box. Based on Patty’s last successful pregnancy and birth in January 2019 with a different male, shredded brown paper bags were her preferred nesting material. Will Tyrion and Patty become parents? While this is ultimately up to the treeshrews, Zoo Keepers are hopeful for a future baby! Be sure to follow the Zoo on social media and check the blog for any updates.