When Australian Philip Gith realised his pet lizard was a better smartphone gamer than him, he didn’t euthanise it for embarrassing him – he whipped out his camera.
And now the female bearded dragon he calls Crunch has become an internet celebrity due to its fondness for the smartphone game Ant Smasher.
In the video Crunch is shown snapping up the on-screen ants and insects with her tongue to the tune of the Super Mario theme, and when the game stops the lizard looks up expectantly at its owner, angling for another round.
Gith, 21, who works as an apprentice mechanic in Brisbane, uploaded the video to YouTube about a month ago to show his mates and three weeks later it had only done about 300 views. Then he woke up one morning and had 1000 emails in his inbox.
“It’s pretty insane … I had 225,000 views yesterday morning when I checked and now it’s got 1.7 million on it,” he said in a phone interview.
“I’ve had lots of TV shows like Good Morning America contact me and they wanted to play it on their show and I’ve had agencies and advertising partnerships contact me but i’ve got to sort all that out today.”
Gith said he’s had the lizard for about a year and also owns another bearded dragon but only Crunch has taken to the smartphone game.
“I’ve had video responses of people trying to do the same thing and their dragons just don’t react the same way,” he said.
So what is it about Crunch that makes her such a keen gamer? “It was kind of really random because whenever I feed her crickets she just chases them through the tank and just smashes them … every time you dangle something in her face she’s keen to eat it so I was like I wonder how she goes with this game which has got bugs crawling on the screen,” said Gith.
Peter Harlow, manager of reptiles at Taronga Zoo, said dragon lizards were the only type of lizard that could respond to what they see on a video screen.
“They have excellent visual acuity – that’s what they do, they look for little insects and then they go out and grab them,” he said, adding that Crunch would have thought that the on-screen bugs were food.
“He thinks it’s a real edible insect and he’s trying to eat it and he’s looking confused when his tongue flicks but he doesn’t taste it … it’s the first time in his life he’s grabbed an insect and doesn’t actually get to taste it.”
Harlow said he was surprised other lizards of the same type weren’t also taking to smartphone games as they are “very visual lizards”. He said it may just be that the other lizards weren’t as hungry as Crunch at the time.
He said a group at Macquarie University was actually conducting behavioural experiments with dragon lizards using video screens. “They play back a big male and the small male will retreat but if they play back a smaller male the big male will respond aggressively and try to attack the screen in some cases,” Harlow said.
But Harlow doesn’t see a future career for Crunch as a video game stunt lizard. “He seems to be losing interest by the end of it anyway because he’s realising that it’s not a good food source.”