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Male (left) and female sage grouse.
SERVO 09.2015 9
Give a Bird the Bird(bot)
Anytime you can be paid to simultaneously play with robots and study
sex secrets, it's bound to be an interesting gig — even if you're just studying
birds. In the case of UC Davis (
ucdavis.edu) biologist, Gail Patricelli, it was
an investigation into why a greater sage grouse named Dick has been so
successful with the ladies while a majority of seemingly equally desirable
males just can't get no satisfaction. According to researchers, Dick once
accomplished 30 copulations in a single morning — 23 of them in as many
minutes. The sage grouse is famous for its "elaborate, vaguely obscene
mating ritual" in which they swish their wings over their chests, gulp air into
their esophaguses (thereby inflating dual air sacs on their breasts), and make
a strange "pop-whistle-pop" sound.
To fully understand the nuances, Patricelli decided to create a couple
fembots that could interact with Dick and make videos of his hours-long
dances. Dubbed Salt and Pepa, they consisted of electromechanical innards
covered with real female skins salvaged from Fish and Game Department
freezers. They look pretty real except for the four wheels, but that level of
realism was probably not necessary as the males have been known to try
mating with dried cow pies when nothing better was available.
The only conclusions so far are that Dick and his ilk produce good
sound, tend to have fewer scars on their air sacs, and tend to have lots of
hens surrounding them. Research continues ... SV