So, how do you study shy penguins without changing their behavior or causing them to have a heart attack while trying to get away from you? You build a rover disguised as a baby penguin.
The venture was led by Yvon Le Maho from France’s University of Strasbourg. The goal was to create a rover that could get in close to the penguins in Adelie Land in Antarctica. The five rovers created in the experiment started with a fiberglass baby penguin. This model was a complete failure. After more attempts, they have come up with a design that works.
It is covered in gray fur with black arms and a black and white painted face with a black beak. This one works so well that the penguins actually try to communicate with it. As scientists watched from a safe distance, about 650 yards from the pack, they found the rover baby was accepted and it didn’t startle or scare the penguins at all.
Le Maho has reported that the adult penguins will speak to the rover baby penguin possibly in an attempt to find mates for their own babies. Scientists also noted that the adult penguins were very upset when the baby rover did not respond.
This will assist the researchers in making more improvements to the rover. The next one they send out will be programmed with “special” penguin songs. That way the baby can communicate back to the adults, and possibly assist in gathering more research.
The findings were published in the Nature Methods journal on Sunday, and it highlights some of the future uses for the rover. They intend to install devices to read radio signals from tagged Emperor Penguins.
This is not the first time Le Maho has used rovers to assist in research. When previously researching elephant seals and king penguins, the rovers were useful, but they didn’t need disguises since these animals are not afraid of strangers. These findings could prove useful to other researchers who have difficulty getting close to the animal subjects they are attempting to study in the wild.
Researchers also have begun to use drones to help study animals in the wild.
(Photo courtesy of Yvon Le Maho)