Robots in the service of animal behavior


As reading fiction can challenge us to better understand fact, using fake animals can sometimes serve as our best solution to understanding the behavior of real animals. The use of dummies, doppelgangers, fakes, and physical models have served to elicit behaviors in animal experiments since the early history of behavior studies, and, more recently, robotic animals have been employed by researchers to further coax behaviors from their study subjects. Here, we review the use of robots in the service of animal behavior, and describe in detail the production and use of one type of robot – “faux” frogs – to test female responses to multisensory courtship signals. The túngara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus) has been a study subject for investigating multimodal signaling, and we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using the faux frogs we have designed, with the larger aim of inspiring other scientists to consider the appropriate application of physical models and robots in their research.

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Robots in the service of animal behavior