A Rover In A Penguin’s Clothing Sets Forth On An Antarctic Adventure

Brooding emperor penguin with its chick approached by a rover camouflaged with a fake chick. Image: Le Maho, et. al.

Remote-operated vehicles which can be used to monitor penguins and other wildlife in their
natural habitat have less of an impact on animal behaviour than humans do.

Approaching wild animals to collect data can lead to stress for animals and jeopardises the significance of results for researchers.

How to study animals in their natural environment while minimizing human disturbance remains one of the challenges in ecology.

One tool for such studies is to tag with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags), which have Radio Frequency Identification to monitor individual animals.

However, PIT tags can only be read when the animal with the tag is close to an antenna.

Yvon Le Maho of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France and colleagues examined the feasibility of reducing stress on incubating king penguins by using a rover to read RFID tags.

They found that stress responses of these penguins were significantly lower when the rover approached compared to the presence of human researchers.

The authors also camouflaged the rover with a penguin model and tested it on the more shy emperor penguins.

The emperor penguins allowed the rover to approach close enough to read RFID tags.

Some chicks and adults even spoke, or squawked, at the camouflaged rover.

See what happens when the rover doesn’t dress as a penguin:

The research is reported in the journal Nature Methods.

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