Video Not all “space gecko” experiments end in fiery doom: a group of thick-toed geckos sent into orbit have been filmed seem to have enjoyed playing with a collar floating around their capsule.
That's interesting to the behavioural boffins in charge of the project, because “play” is a pretty advanced behaviour to be exhibited by a mere gecko.
Footage from Russia's 2013 BION-M 1 mission, released along with a research paper in Ethology, shows the geckos batting around a spiky collar that slipped off one of the lizards during the 30-day experiment.
The coloured collars were there to identify individuals; with the loose collar floating around in the weightless conditions, the geckoes first avoided it, but once they decided it was safe, they started batting it around the capsule.
As the boffins write: “Four of the five geckos participated in play episodes, which were defined as one-time interactions with the collar, as well in a fuller form of play that included approaching the unmoving collar or observing its approach, manipulations with the collar and further tracking the collar.“
The geckos clearly decided it was fun, since their games included flipping the collar around, sticking their heads through the collar, pressing the collar against the container floor, and balancing the collar on the snout.
As The Guardian notes, “The scientists ruled out the possibility that the geckos had mistaken the collar for food, because the reptiles did not respond in the same playful way when mealworms floated past”.
Eventually, the geckos got bored and ignored the collar: apparently 30 days is too long to be fascinated by a microgravity frisbee.
The researchers note that all the geckos on this mission were female, because males are too aggressive to be kept in a confined space. ®
Video credit: Valerij Barabanov, Victoria Gulimova, Rustam Berdiev and Sergey Saveliev, Journal of Ethology