Roving Chick Spy Keeps Tabs on Shy Penguins

A remote-operated vehicle (rover) in a penguin model, directed close to an Emperor penguin and her chick in Antarctica, in this image released by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique on Nov. 1 in Strasbourg. AFP/Ho/Nature Methods Magazine

The newest tool for biologists is the baby penguin robotic spy. It's pretty darn cute, and so convincing that penguins essentially talk to it, as if it is a potential mate for their chicks. Emperor penguins are notoriously shy. When researchers approach, these penguins normally back away and their heart rate goes up. That's not what the scientists need when they want to check heart rate, health and other penguin parameters. So international scientists and even filmmakers, led by Yvon Le Maho of the University of Strasbourg in France, created a remote control rover disguised as a chick to snuggle up to shy penguins in Adelie Land, Antarctica — the same place where the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" was filmed. Researchers watched from more than 650 feet away. The first disguised version of the rover, made of fiberglass, didn't pass muster and scared the real birds, Le Maho said. Researchers tried about five versions until they hit upon the right one. It's covered in gray fur, sports black arms, and has a black-and-white painted face and black beak.

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--- Associated Press