Robotic Reptile Helps Researchers

Tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus

A robotic tuatara has been put to work in Stephens Island, New Zealand, helping researchers to better understand the mating habits of its biological brethren.

Tuataras are one of the oldest reptile species on Earth, dating back 200 million years. The researchers are hoping that the data obtained by using "Robo-Ollie" will help them in relocating the reptiles when necessary and in captive breeding programs.

Robo-Ollie was built by Weta Workshops, a company that designed many robotic creatures for the Lord of the Rings movies. Though the robot is not rigged to move its legs, it does have movement in its head and is equipped to shoot high-powered laser beams out of its eyes when threatened. Ok, that very last part isn't true.

Why did you program me to feel pain?

So far, Robo-Ollie has taught researchers that an open mouth, displayed between male tuataras, is just the first in an elaborate ritual of aggression, complete with gaping, puffing and finally physical confrontation. Researchers are speculating that the gaping and puffing up are both means to delay or avoid a fight, as fights can be very taxing, especially for a creature that spends 95% of its life sitting motionless.

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