Researchers at La Trobe University in Australia and the University of Tasmania have decided to see how likely this is. To this end, they have developed a new robot, says NewAtlas. Called WomBot, the robot is battery-powered, 30 cm long, weighs 2 kg and moves with chains similar to those of tanks, with a maximum speed of 0.15 meters per second. WomBot is equipped with temperature and humidity sensors, along with front and rear cameras and LED lighting. Live video from these cameras is transmitted over an Ethernet cable to an operator above ground. In addition, there is a gripper in the front of the robot that can place sensors to record data in the hollows so that the inside can be monitored later.
Interesting animals are wombats. They are known, apologetically, for their cube-shaped stools, but also, unfortunately, suffer en masse from sarcoptic mange. To better understand how scabies mites spread between wombats, scientists have now developed a robot to study animal hollows. Wombats are mostly nocturnal animals. They spend the light part of the day sleeping in holes they dig in the ground. They usually change their holes every 4 to 10 days. Often they simply move to another hole that was previously dug and occupied by another wombat. It is believed that the parasitic mites Sarcoptes scabiei, which cause sarcoptic scabies, can be transferred between wombats when they change their hollows in this way. “The holes in the wombats are challenging to study because they are narrow, muddy, can be tens of meters long and contain steep sections and sharp bends,” said Dr. Robert Ross of the University, co-author of the study. “WomBot allows us to enter and explore these hollows without destroying them or using expensive ground-penetrating radar. This can help us better understand the conditions in the holes, which may facilitate the transmission of sarcoptic mange.
In September 2020, the robot was used to explore 30 wombat holes in Tasmania. The average temperature in these holes was found to be 15 ° C and the average relative humidity was 85%. According to previous studies, mites thrive best at about 10 ° C and a relative humidity of 75 to 95 percent – conditions similar to those in holes. Based on these data, scientists now believe that female Sarcoptes scabiei mites can survive nine to ten days at the entrance to a hole – or 16 to 18 days inside a hole – by spreading from one inhabitant to another.
“Our findings show that conditions in wombat hollows can facilitate the transmission of sarcoptic mange, favoring the survival of mites,” says Dr. Ross. “WomBot can potentially be used to help reduce the spread of sarcoptic mange by applying an insecticide or ensuring that the holes are empty before treatment with temporary heat to kill mites.” And yes – there was a case in which the robot encountered a wombat when visiting a hole. The animal is thought to have slept, so the team quickly pulled WomBot out of it.
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