Feeds

Robot gender-bending reptile is a lover, not a fighter

Animatronic droid lothario goes undercover to help breeding programme

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

New Zealand boffins have deployed an undercover robotic reptile into the wild in order to boost the success of gender-bending creature breeding programmes, it has emerged.

The National Geographic reports that the tuatara lizard-like reptiles, a prehistoric species which is the sole survivor of a family dating back 200 million years, may be on the verge of extinction.

Unusually, the creatures' sex appears to be determined by the local temperature experienced by their eggs. This has led Geographic writers to describe them as "gender benders" in the past, and to suggest that global warming may wipe them out.

But plucky New Zealand postdoctoral student Jennifer Moore reckons that captive breeding or relocation programmes might save the tuatara, if she can work out "how male tuatara establish dominance - how they attract and keep females".

Apparently, tuatara chaps aren't very ardent lovers.

"These are animals that spend perhaps 95 per cent of their time sitting motionless. So if they are forced to do something that requires big bursts of energy, then that's really costly," Moore told the Geographic.

The couch-potato male reptiles will go to any lengths to avoid physical exertion, and have seemingly evolved a complex system of exchanging insults by gaping their mouths at each other in order to avoid fighting over females. On rare occasions, however, this bad mouthing will escalate.

"If one doesn't back down, it degenerates into full-on fighting and rolling," according to Moore.

"They often lose tails in fights, and [growing a new one] can be a big cost, too."

The Geographic notes that "just 25 per cent of the males produce all of Stephen Island's young. Typically, these are the biggest individuals ..."

Alternative strategies used by smaller or weaker human males to win female attention don't cut it among the tuatara. There is seemingly no equivalent of sparkling wit, political power, or enormous wealth. Prowess in reptile mayhem is the surest route to success with the lady lizardoids.

Moore's research is aimed at getting "an idea of who is winning the fights; who's getting the ladies, who's fathering the children - who is more successful, generally".

To that end she has deployed "Robo-Ollie", a lifelike polyurethane simulacrum of a dead male tuatara named Ollie. The deceased lizardoid's corpse was apparently used to create a silicone mould, which in turn enabled the creation of an animatronic replica reptile. The work was done by WETA, the noted NZ rubber-creature studio most famous for its work on the Rings trilogy.

Apparently, the reptile Gollum can't move anything except its head, but this is fairly normal behaviour for the lackadaisical lizardoids and has passed unnoticed. There were some initial hiccups, in which "Robo-Ollie" indvertently exhibited feminine behaviour rather than the roaring studliness appropriate to his appearance, but these have since been ironed out.

Robotic surveillance of the reptiles' bedroom habits has been slow going, perhaps understandably given their lack of drive. Moore has apparently spent five weeks in the field with "Robo-Ollie" and his accompanying remote cameras, but made relatively little progress so far.

"It's complex," she told the Geographic.

Full report here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
Major cyber attack hits Norwegian oil industry
Statoil, the gas giant behind the Scandie social miracle, targeted
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.