Tag Archives: behaviour

Animal Behaviour


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Animal behaviour (ethology) is an interesting field of study that has fascinated biologists for hundreds of years. From Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin to Konrad Lorenz, Ivan Pavlov and Skinner, scientists have studied animals and wondered how their behaviour relates to humans.

  • Innate Behaviour – Reflexes, Kineses and Taxes (7.15 minute video)
  • Learned Behaviour – Imprinting, Habituation and Conditioning (6.24 minute video)
  • Animal behaviour (23.40 minute YouTube video) – What can we learn by using video cameras attached to animals or in their burrows to see the world from an animal’s perspective? Cameras were attached to reptiles, mammals and even insects to observe animal behaviour in their natural environment. These are animals from North America (wild turkeys, armadillo, moles and chickadees).
  • Produce a slideshow showing the structural, functional and behavioural adaptations of some Australian native animals. For example, koala, kangaroo, emu, echidna, crocodile, tiger snake, thorny devil, platypus or kookaburra.


11: Behavioural Adaptations for Survival


Link for our Elluminate session (Friday 22nd July, periods 1 and 2): https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?sid=2007026&password=M.8E3BE08DC2C05955C950883EC4C9AB
Learning Intention: For students to be able to understand what behavioural adaptations are, how they can assist the survival of different species and to be able to identify different types of behavioural adaptations.

Success Criteria: You will be able to identify several examples of innate and learned animal behaviours and describe how they assist each organism to survive in their environment.

Any actions that an animal takes to assist it’s survival – feeding, mating, hibernating, migrating, nesting, fighting for territory or resting in shade – are behavioral adaptations that have evolved over generations. Some behaviors are ‘innate’ or instinctive and occur in all animals of the same species, even if they are isolated from their parents and siblings. These behaviors are genetically programmed, while others are learned behaviors. Learned behaviors require an organism to observe the behavior.

An example of insect behaviour is the “waggle dance” that directs bees to sources of food – read more about it at NOVA. For more examples of animal and plant adaptations, check out this Scoop.it magazine I created, with some interesting articles. From D’Anne Witkowski’s blog – “Unique among primates, gelada males have a patch of bare skin on their chest that changes in color according to status. Beehner believes that this relationship (between color and status) might be linked by testosterone. As testosterone levels rise, male chests change from pale pink to bright red. Simply put, this chest patch could be a signal to other males, a way for males to decide whether they want to pick a fight with a high-testosterone rival or not.”


This Creative Commons Image from Wikimedia

Amazing Reproductive Strategies


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Tonight on ABC1 you may have been lucky enough to watch “Life” narrated by David Attenborough. This, the first of three episodes, was about fish – their variety, feeding and reproductive behaviours, habitats and predators.  It began with footage taken in southern Australian waters, of the weedy sea dragon, showing how the male and female court by ‘dancing’ then the female transfers the fertilized eggs to the male, who looks after them until they hatch. The tiny hatchlings wriggle free from the father’s belly-fold and begin to feed, with their yolk sac still attached. The anglerfish has another unusual method of reproduction, in which the male is ‘parasitic’ on the female. The tiny male embeds itself in the female and disintegrates into the female’s flesh, until all that is left is the testes.


Praying mantids exhibit another unusual method of reproduction, in which the male has a good chance of his head being bitten off during mating. If the male happens to lose his rigid grip from atop the female, he is at risk of sexual cannibalism – the female gets a nutritous meal as well as continued copulation, as the nerves that stop copulation are in the head, and the nerves that continue copulation are in the abdomen. Dragonflies and damselflies also display unusual courtship. Eggs may be deposited underwater, drilled into mud, carved into stems, or dropped while in flight.


The green spoonworm (Bonellia viridis) is another species in which the female dominates – in fact you are unlikely to find a male spoonworm at all. The spoonworms begin life as free-swimming larvae, which settle to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and slowly develop. If the larvae happen to settle on another female, the female releases a chemical that turns the larvae into a tiny male, which migrates through her mouth into the uterus and assumes a parasitic existence. The female can have up to twenty tiny males inside her genital sac, so she expends no energy looking for a mate, while the male benefits by having a safe and secure space, relying on the female for nutrition.




In a recent article in The Age, “Cheating is risky, but worth it, for female finches”, Adam Carey writes about the reproductive strategies of the beautiful Gouldian Finches, which have an unusually high rate of intra-species incompatability. “Gouldian finches mate two to four times a day during breeding season, but given the opportunity, the female will covertly cuckold her mate, also going to great lengths to keep it a secret. Males will help to incubate eggs and feed chicks, unless the female’s infidelity becomes known, in which case he might abandon the brood.” So what motivates the female to take such a risk? Scientists believe that the female can choose genetically superior mates and maximizes her chance of conceiving healthy offspring by ‘cheating’ on her mate. A superior male can fertilize up to 75% of a female’s eggs, making even one copulation worthwhile.

Mating behaviour in animals – monogamy, polygamy, polygyny and polyandry.

Reproductive behaviours

lyrebird display

Over the next two weeks we will be studying the various reproductive strategies of plants and animals, ranging from the broadcast spawning of coral polyps and boxfish (r-strategy) to the K-strategy of whales and other mammals, in which much energy is expended in gestation and caring for the offspring. The prominent tail feathers of the male lyrebird serve to attract passing females. The male does not put energy into producing eggs or caring for offspring, but puts much energy into growing long tail feathers and putting on reproductive displays.

Quiz on reproductive strategies:

Click here for full screen version

Trip to Melbourne Zoo

emerald tree boa
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Year 11 Biology students are looking forward to their excursion to Melbourne Zoo in a couple of weeks. As part of our study of Adaptations of organisms – including structural, functional and behavioural adaptations and reproductive strategies of organisms, we will be spending the day in Melbourne.

Zoos Victoria have produced a range of learning resources for VCE classes, including Reproduction, Survival Behaviour and Hot, Wet and Wild. We will use these in our self-guided tour of the Zoo.

Animal Enrichment in Zoos

animal enrichment2

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Environmental enrichment improves or enhances zoo environments for animals, stimulating them to investigate and interact with their surroundings. Zookeepers enrich animal environments by making changes to structures in their enclosures, presenting novel objects and smells for them to investigate and explore, and by changing how they present food to them. Doing all of these things alleviates boredom by giving animals more choice of activity. It encourages them to forage, hunt and handle their food in ways that are natural to them in the wild.  The traditional method of feeding zoo animals out of a feed pan does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Enrichment keeps zoo animals active and interested in their environment.

Find out more about Animal Enrichment at the Honolulu Zoo site, Animal Enrichment and Zoos Victoria.

Survival behaviours

Yabby at Sydney Aquarium

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The yabbies in our school aquarium make suitable subjects for a study of animal behaviour. Can you classify yabby behaviour according the following:

  • feeding
  • maintenance
  • territorial
  • agressive
  • defensive
  • co-operative
  • reproductive
  • parenting

Which are learned behaviours and which are innate? How are each of these behaviours important to the survival of the yabby as a species? How do you think the behaviour of the yabby is modified by being confined to an aquarium? Can you observe yabbies communicating with each other?

 Department of Primary Industries Aquaculture fact sheet:  “Biology of Yabbies (Cherax destructor)”

Animal behaviour experiment with yabbies: “Agonistic behaviour in Crayfish”

Behavioural Adaptations

bird migration

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Animals display many types of behaviour that enable them to survive changes in their environment and pressures from predators, parasites and disease. Bird migration is an obvious example that allows birds to find food and/or partners and raise their chicks. Winter hibernation in cold climates (bears, for example) allows animals to conserve energy in the harsh winter, when food is scarce, and mate and raise their offspring during the spring and summer when food is plentiful. Another interesting example is the reproductive behaviour of marsupials – the red kangaroo can control the length of the gestation period, so that the joey is not born into a drought, but when the mother has plenty of food available and is producing enough milk. She can also produce different types of milk at the same time to nourish joeys of different ages. Can you think of any examples of behvioural adaptations in insects, reptiles and fish?