Brevard student discovers 'rain dance' of endangered tortoises (Radiated Tortoi

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Cowboy_Ken

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by Mackenzie Ryan, Florida Today Melbourne, 9/3/13

While visiting a Florida Tech facility that breeds tortoises with his father, West Shore Jr./Sr. High School student River Grace noticed something strange.

When it rained, certain tortoises appeared to dance. They stood tall, wiggled their legs, lifted them up and down and scratched them together.

Intrigued, the now 14-year-old decided to study the behavior for the science fair last spring.

His project, titled “Rain Dance of the Radiata: Behavior of the Endangered Radiated Tortoise and Related Species,” was recently chosen as one of 30 finalists in the national Broadcom MASTERS competition.

The prestigious science competition for middle school students is designed to recognize and engage young researchers; winners of state or regional science fairs are invited to participate.

“I couldn’t believe I had gotten this,” said River, now a high school freshman. “As soon as I got over the shock, I was delighted.”

As a finalist, River receives an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the Broadcom MASTERS Finals from Sept. 27-Oct. 1.

There, he’ll showcase his project and compete in hands-on activities in science, technology engineering and math. He’ll be in the running for more than $100,000 in prizes.

While researching the Radiated Tortoise, River realized that not much is known about the species, which is only found in southern Madagascar. It’s critically endangered, and scientists estimate it could be extinct in the next 20 years.
River developed a better understanding of the species while completing his project at Florida Tech, where his father Michael is a professor, and at the Brevard Zoo. The project was done under the direction of West Shore Teacher Mary Anderson.

In some experiments, River simulated rain by using a water sprinkler and watching to see if males reacted differently than females, or if hatchlings reacted differently than adults. He found that gender did not play a role, but age did.

In addition, he tested six other species of tortoises, from other parts of the world. They did not behave the same way in the rain.

River believes the dance may be a cleaning routine, which he wants to study further.

He’s also interested in conservation research that could help the species survive.

“We don’t know much about them, and of the scientific papers and all the information I could find, there’s hardly anything,” he said.
 

AnnV

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That is outrageously crazy awesome!
I hope he wins!
Thanks for sharing.
Ann from CT
 

LisaTurtle

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Wow that's really interesting!! I would love to see a video of it. And very cool for that kid!
 

Tom

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Neat story. Observant kid.

According to the current research there are somewhere between 6.5 and 7 million radiata still in the wild. This is not counting all the captive ones. Wild sulcatas are much more endangered. Extinct in at least two countries now...
 

allegraf

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Great story and wonderfully precocious kid!
 

FLINTUS

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I swear the rain dance info has been published before though, can't think where though. The keepers in Mauritius went on about it too.
 

Kapidolo Farms

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FLINTUS said:
I swear the rain dance info has been published before though, can't think where though. The keepers in Mauritius went on about it too.

I agree, a different audience makes it new news, not to mention what tent tortoises or Egyptians do in the rain.

Still, it's cool to have some positive excitement for someone interested in science and the Pop culture press making a big deal out of it.

Will
 

BeeBee*BeeLeaves

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I love that it was a child that noticed this in nature. I love his name River and Grace? Really? Rain and tortoise dance. What synchronicity is that? Win River, win! I want other kids to know about rain and tortoises both, through this. Look up from that video game and take note all y'all tweens and teens! : )
 
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