for National Geographic News
Male cheetahs turn females on—literally.
That's because a specific bark triggers the female reproductive system to release eggs, researchers have found.
Unlike other cat species, female cheetahs ovulate rarely and at unusual times. They also lack a regular reproductive cycle.
All this makes them tough to breed in captivity. (See a photo of the first cheetah cubs born at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo.)
But now, scientists know why—and the discovery may boost efforts to breed the rare cats.
A team of bioacoustics experts studying cheetah vocalizations stumbled onto the discovery.
They noticed that the male's "stutter bark" was made days before breeding took place, said research leader Matt Anderson at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
Because calls unique to a single gender are often associated with reproduction, Anderson and his colleagues took a closer look.
The team introduced a sexually mature female cheetah to two males during a series of experiments, recording calls made by the cats and monitoring the hormones found in their feces. (Hear the bark below.)
They discovered that male stutter-bark calls triggered increases in the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone in the females' feces.
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