Besides being known for their cubic poop, koalas are unfortunately also subject to ironic disease. To better understand how mange ticks can spread among koalas, scientists have developed a caving robot.
Wombats are mainly nocturnal animals, spending all hours of the day sleeping in burrows they dig in the ground. They change burrows every 4 to 10 days, often simply moving into another burrow that has been dug and occupied by another koala. It is believed that parasites Sarcoptes scabiei Ticks, which cause ringworm, can be transferred between koalas when they swap burrows in this fashion.
Researchers from Australia’s La Trobe University and the University of Tasmania wanted to see how likely this is, so they developed the new robot. Called WomBot, the battery-powered device is 30 cm (11.8 in) long, weighs 2 kg (4.4 lb) and travels up tank-like steps at a top speed of 0.15 meters / sec (0.5 ft/s).
It is also equipped with temperature and humidity sensors, along with front and rear cameras and LED lights. Live video from those cameras is relayed over an ethernet cable attached to the operator at the top. In addition, a clamp on the front of the robot allows the sensors to record data to be placed inside the burrows and then removed.
“The Wombat caves are difficult to study because they are narrow, muddy, can be tens of meters long and contain steep slopes and bends,” said Dr Robert Ross of La Trobe, corresponding author of the study. . “WomBot allows us to enter and explore these caves without destroying them or using expensive ground-penetrating radar. This could help us better understand the environmental conditions inside the caves. can facilitate mange transmission.”
In September 2020, robots were used to explore 30 koalas’ burrows in Tasmania. It was found that the average temperature inside those caves was 15 ºC (59 ºF), while the average relative humidity was 85 percent. According to previous studies, ticks thrive at around 10 ºC (50 ºF) and 75 to 95 percent relative humidity – conditions similar to burrows.
Based on this data, scientists believe that women Sarcoptes scabiei The tick can survive for 9 to 10 days at the entrance of the cave – or 16 to 18 days inside the burrow – spreading from person to person.
“Our findings indicate that environmental conditions inside koalas’ burrows may facilitate transmission of the mange fluke by promoting survival of the species,” said Ross. draw”. “WomBot could potentially be used to help reduce the spread of fascioliasis by providing insecticide or making sure the burrows are empty before being temporarily heated to kill ticks.”
And in case you were wondering, he told us that the robot only encountered a koala in its den. Perhaps the animal was asleep, and the team quickly pushed the WomBot away from it.
The article was recently published in the journal Applied Science SN.