Fembot Helps Research Mating From Bird's Eye View


Image: by Gail Patricelli in the Billings Gazette

Researcher Gail Patricelli took a clue from Austin Powers for her latest research. The professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California at Davis is conducting studies which may be important to saving the dwindling population of the sage grouse. "The sage grouse is the North American version of the peacock, because of their bizarre and elaborate traits," Patricelli is quoted as saying in the Billings Gazette.

Patricelli wanted close-up observations of male sage grouse mating behavior. So she invented her own "fembot". The video below shows the fembot in action. Can it explain how one male sage grouse gets to mate 43 times, while a few others mate 1 to 7 times, and the majority leave the dance empty-handed?The use of the fembot eliminates variability in the female behavior which complicates the analysis of mating rituals between bird pairs. It seems that all the girl grouses are falling for the same guys. Patricelli hopes to figure out why with the help of the fembot experiments.

The female grouse fembot is a robot decoy mounted on a model railroad car. It lures the male sage grouse to perform a unique dance, while a video camera and microphone hidden in the fembot records it. Patricelli is trying to determine how the male's puffing and strutting performance relates to success in mating, a process termed "sexual selection". (Can you imagine the sage grouse's spam box? "Blue pill helps you puff up" from ImpressUrGirl...delete. "Strut your stuff, get the girl" from LoveDate...delete.)

Now listen up guys, there is something to be learned from this important research: "courtship is not just about having the flashiest traits. It's also about interacting appropriately. The males need to know how and when to approach the females," Patricelli says. The hypothesis under examination is the degree to which sexual selection promotes the evolution of males that know how to chat a girl up.

Image: YouTube

So why do some male grouses succeed while others fail? "Anyone who has observed any courtship in any species, including our own, knows these things go on. There's all sorts of dancing around, and some individual animals are better at it than others," Patricelli says. (Spam mail titled "Dancing for Sex Success" from EvolutionaryPayoff....click, read that one, move to archives!)

More on Mating Rituals
Billings Gazette, Robot spies on sage grouse
Human vs. Animal Mating Rituals: We're Not So Different After All
A Visual Orgasm on the Galapagos Islands
Weird, True and Freaky: Leopard Slug Mating

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