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Archive for June 12th, 2007

Robot Reptile “Released” Into Wild to Aid Breeding Research

Posted by Miqe on June 12, 2007

On Stephens Island in New Zealand’s storm-wracked Cook Strait, the tuatara—one of the most ancient reptile species on Earth—is getting a hand from distinctly 21st-century science (see a New Zealand map).Researchers have placed in the wild a very special male that, like its wild cousins, can put on physical displays to establish its dominance.

Robot tuatara picture

Enlarge Photo

But this reptile’s skin is made of rubber, not scales, and its “heart” is a nickel-cadmium battery.

The alpha male in question is “Robo-Ollie,” a robotic tuatara created to help researchers understand the behavior of these rare reptiles, the last species in a family that dates back 200 million years.

Specifically, postdoctoral student Jennifer Moore wants to know how male tuatara establish dominance—how they attract and keep females.

Understanding critical behaviors could help tuatara translocation and captive-breeding programs, perhaps by guiding conservation managers to the genetically fittest, most productive males.

(Related news: “Warming May Drive Gender-Bending Reptiles Extinct, Scientists Say” [November 10, 2006].)

“We needed a model we could manipulate in the field to look at aggression between males, which ultimately leads to reproductive success,” Moore said.

“That can give us an idea of who is winning the fights; who’s getting the ladies, who’s fathering the children—who is more successful, generally.”

To Bob or Not to Bob

To create a controllable tuatara, Moore enlisted aid from Weta Workshops, the Wellington-based animatronics company that fashioned monsters for such films as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Weta’s senior prosthetics supervisor, Gino Acevedo, first took a cast from the venerable corpse of Oliver, a captive tuatara that recently passed away at Victoria University in Wellington.

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Posted in Herps in the news, International articles and news., Lizards, Science/Scientific papers | Leave a Comment »

Quad Cities man discovers new snake

Posted by Miqe on June 12, 2007

By ANTHONY WATT The (Moline) Dispatch & The Rock Island Argus

MOLINE, Ill. — There is a snake wandering around northwestern Venezuela named after a 14-year-old Quad Cities boy.

It’s called the Paraguanan blue whiptail, but the snake’s proper name is Atractus matthewi. The boy’s is Matthew Markezich. It’s his father’s doing. Allan Markezich, 57, is the snake’s discoverer.

“I do research on evolution, ecology and biological diversity in the tropics,” said Markezich, a biology professor at Black Hawk College.

That sentence sums up a career that involves tramping around the Western Hemisphere — mainly Venezuela — since the late 1980s, studying reptiles and amphibians and trying to conserve their habitat.

Atractus matthewi probably does not have a common name, Markezich said. It’s a secretive ground-dwelling animal that tends to live in cover in an isolated mountain range in northeast Venezuela.

“You don’t see this kind of snake often,” the 57-year-old said.

And there are other South American species that owe their human names to Markezich. The first was a tiny lizard — a dwarf gecko.

Its Latin moniker, Lepidoblepharis montecanoensis, might be bigger than it is.

“That is the first animal I ever collected, and it was this species,” he said.

It’s one of the smallest geckos in the world, Markezich said. It’s also critically endangered, existing in a habitat only a few hundred acres across.

And the threat of extinction for this animal, and others, is one of the reasons Markezich wanders.

“There’s a lot of extinction going on,” he said, “I think that’s what motivates me more than anything.”

Many species are going extinct before people have a chance to find and understand them, he said.

It is something, he said, for which expanding human populations and more efficient forms of harvesting natural resources can be blamed. Plant and animal populations are not being given enough time to recover.

By scientifically documenting new species, scientists give them some protection because it makes it easier to protect their habitats, Markezich said.

It also allows him to make people aware of what is out there and the fact that it is disappearing, he said.

He said the best part of the job is “making other people, like students, aware of the natural world.”

The natural, real world can be more fascinating than anything in a fantasy, Markezich said.

From The Hawk Eye

Posted in Herps in the news, International articles and news., Snakes | 2 Comments »