Design Engineering

UWindsor researchers 3D print “Robotoads” to find princeliest frog

By DE Staff   

Additive Manufacturing

Life-like replicas key to investigating mating preferences of toads and other amphibians.

UWindsor master’s student Lincoln Savi’s 3D-printed Robotoads are designed to uncover the mating preferences of the Neotropical Yellow Toad, a species whose males change color during the mating season. (Photo credit: University of Windsor)

Biologists at the University of Windsor are leveraging additive manufacturing, plus a bit of basic robotics, to create life-like replicas of particular amphibians to better understanding what makes one toad more snoggable than another. Of special interest is the Neotropical Yellow Toad, a Central American species whose males are known for changing color from muddy brown to bright yellow during an annual mating ritual.

Research by UWindsor professors, Dr. Daniel Mennill and Dr. Stéphanie Doucet, had previously discovered that the toads’ color transformation, in part, helps males discern between boys and girl toads. Now, the biologists want to see, with the help of UWindsor PhD student Katrina Switzer, if lady toads prefer a certain shade of yellow.

Previous studies had used hand-sculpted clay toads but the hope now, Switzer said, is that realistic robotoad models, animated by small motors to mimic amphibian behaviour, will lead to a more intense female response.

“We’ve had a previous master’s student use clay models that he pulled with a string and he was still able to get a strong reaction,” she said. “But I’m hoping that if we are trying to see if they can pick up on subtle differences, then having realistic models will be the best way to detect it.”


These lifelike toad replicas are the work of UWindsor master’s student, Lincoln Savi, who produced the robotoads using a combination of photogrammetry, 3D modelling and additive manufacturing. Once printed, the toad models were then tinted to match the top and bottom 10 per cent of natural toad colour variation.

Not satisfied with simply creating the Channing Tatum of toads, Savi has launched his own business, called Savi Made, due to the positive response to his 3D printed amphibians.

“It’s an interesting way of still being involved in research while focusing on a more creative aspect of it,” he said.


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