Just like the critters aboard the infamous sex satellite -- you know, the ones that were lost, then found, then died as planned upon re-entry -- these geckos were being used to study the effects of microgravity. All female (because male geckos will fight each other if kept in close quarters), the research subjects were expected to undergo some changes during their space mission. But their playtime came out of the blue. Here's the full video:
The geckos, who aren't floating because of their super-sticky feet, went from being fearful to fascinated with a loose collar and soon treated it as a toy. Not all of the geckos participated, and one of them was responsible for nearly 40 percent of the "playful" actions. By the end of the mission they were bored of it and ignored it.
Burghardt believes that most reptiles don't engage in play because they generally aren't coddled by parents, and because their cold blooded status means they're always trying to conserve energy. He's previously hypothesized that particularly cushy environments -- a pool of warm water for a turtle to float in, for example -- might make play more possible.
So for geckos, microgravity might do the trick. Though it's probably more economical to put your pet turtle in a warm tub than it is to send your gecko into orbit for a play date.
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