VIDEO: Those Russian space geckos actually have a great time playing in zero gravity

Picture: Victoria Gulimova, Journal of Ethology

Apart from the odd software malfunction resulting in death, geckos that get launched into space actually have a great time.

Reptiles are generally left to fend for themselves since birth, so it’s not often that you see young lizards and snakes rolling about and annoying their parents for a laugh.

Crocodiles are an exception and are often seen at play by themselves and with their kids. Herpetologist Gordon Burghardt at the University of Tennessee thinks that’s because crocodile parents care for their young.

And going by this video of a space flight with geckos on board, it seems lizards like to blow off a little steam too when they’re either a) bored and/or b) trying not to be eaten.

All up, there were 15 geckos on board the Bion-M1 satellite when it began its 30-day orbit around the Earth in April, 2013. They’re perfect subjects for scientists to study the effect of zero gravity on such things as general behaviour and reproduction, because sticky feet means they don’t float around.

“It’s the first demonstration of object play in geckos – something that is rare in any lizard,” Burghardt told New Scientist, commenting on a study of the video released recently in the Journal of Ethology.

Burghardt also formed a theory earlier that reptiles were more likely to play in environments where they don’t need to burn so much energy, such as turtles floating in warm water. That theory seems to apply to the zero-gravity geckos.

Unfortunately, sometimes space happens. These particular geckos made it back to Earth alive, unlike 29 of the 45 mice that joined them on-board Bion-M1, only to be dissected.

And just last year, five fellow geckos died when their capsule froze after losing contact with officials on Earth, after they were sent into space specifically to make a sex tape.

More from New Scientist:

Wild chimps look both ways before crossing roads

First human head transplant could happen in two years

Nice legs: Native American bee poses for his close-up