How to scare off an invading fish? A threatening predatory robot.

Mosquito fish are not a difficult creature – they can live in dirty bodies of water and have an indiscriminate appetite. Larvae? Eggs ...


Mosquito fish are not a difficult creature – they can live in dirty bodies of water and have an indiscriminate appetite. Larvae? Eggs from other fish? Detritus? Delicious. Often, the voracious creature of a few inches gnaws the tails of freshwater fishes and tadpoles, leaving them to die.

But the invasive fish threatens some native populations in Australia and other areas, and for decades scientists have tried to figure out how to control it, without damaging the surrounding ecosystem.

Now, the mosquito fish may have finally found its mate: a menacing robot shaped like a fish.

It’s “their worst nightmare,” said Giovanni Polverino, behavioral ecologist at the University of Western Australia and senior author of an article published on Thursday in iScience, in which scientists designed a simulacrum of the fish’s natural predator, the largemouth bass, to strike the mosquito, scaring it away from its prey.

The robot not only made the mosquitoes panic, but marked them with such lasting anxiety that their reproduction rates plummeted; evidence that could have long-term implications for the viability of the species, according to the document.

“You don’t need to kill them,” Dr Polverino said. Instead, he said, “we can basically inject fear into the system, and fear is slowly killing them.”

Mosquitoes, native to North America, are named for their penchant for consuming mosquito larvae. In the 1920s, fish began to be introduced across the world, with the aim of controlling the population of this insect, a vector of malaria.

In some places, including parts of Russia (where they erected a monument to fish) the campaign may have had some success, although it is debated.

But in other parts of the world, the aggressive fish – free from their natural predators – have thrived unchecked. In 2000, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classified the marine animal among the worst invasive species around the world.

In Australia, where the study was conducted, the mosquito feeds on several species of native fish and frogs, including the red-finned blue eye and Edgbaston’s goby, two of the most endangered fish species in extinction in Australia.

“They thrive because they eat pretty much anything that moves, and there is more than enough to eat,” said Francesco Santi, a biologist based in Vicenza, Italy, who was not involved in the study and a studied the mosquito’s diet. He added: “I have no idea where they were actually able to eradicate them.”

For the study, Dr. Polverino and his colleagues designed a mechanical predator in the shape of a largemouth bass. The robot fish used a camera to differentiate its “prey,” the mosquito, and tadpoles from the Australian motorcycle frog, which the mosquito hunts.

The researchers placed their Terminator-like creation in a tank with six wild-caught mosquitoes and six wild-caught tadpoles. When a mosquito approached a tadpole, the robot would rush forward, as if to strike.

After experimenting on 12 separate groups of fish and tadpoles for several weeks, the researchers found that the stressed mosquitoes invested more energy in escaping the robot than in reproducing: the sperm count of the males plummeted and the females fell. started to produce lighter eggs. The fish also lost weight; the bodies of males in particular have become leaner and more apt to escape.

“It wasn’t just that they were scared,” Dr Polverino said. “But they also became unhealthy.”

The experiment isn’t the first time scientists have created robotic imitators to study animal behavior more closely.

In Britain, scientists used a robotic hawk to “attack” a flock of carrier pigeons and observe the birds’ response. In Germany, researchers built a bee who directed other bees to a food source by making a “wriggling dance.” In California, a biologist made a sage grouse “fembot” from a taxidermized bird, to understand the mating habits of endangered species.

In the case of the mechanical largemouth bass, however, scientists say there is a long way to go before the robot can be released back into the wild.

“This is an important proof of concept,” said Peter Klimley, a marine biologist and recently retired professor at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study. But he questioned the feasibility of bringing the creature into a real world environment.

“This study will not be a solution to the problem,” Dr Polverino said, adding that the next phase of their project would be to test the robots in a larger outdoor freshwater pool.

He said the robot should be viewed as a tool that can reveal a pest’s weaknesses. “We have built a kind of vulnerability profile,” said Dr Polverino, who could help biologists and others reinvent how to control invasive species.

“This fear”, he added, “has a side effect”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: How to scare off an invading fish? A threatening predatory robot.
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