Animal Behavior

Animal Behavior is in response to its surroundings. All animals respond to their surroundings. A cat, for example, will arch its back when threatening a rival, but lower its body when stalking a mouse. Everything that an animal does and the way in which it does it makes up its behavior. An animal’s behavior enables it to increase its chances of survival and find a mate so that it can pass on its genes to the next generation. Some behaviors are inbuilt or instinctive. Others are learned during the animal’s lifetime.


Graylag geese nest on the ground. If an egg rolls out of the nest, the female goose automatically reaches out with her neck and pulls the egg back in. By being in the wrong place, the egg acts as a sign stimulus that causes the female to carry out the fixed–action pattern of egg–rolling.

Instinctive Behavior:

Instinct is a term used to describe behaviors that an animal performs automatically without having to learn them. Instinctive behavior is programmed by an animal’s genes. It consists of unchanging components called fixed–action patterns. The fixed–action pattern often begins when an animal responds to a feature in its surroundings or on another animal called a sign stimulus.

Web Spinning:

Many species of spider, including black window spider, spin webs in order to trap their insect food. Web spinning is purely instinctive. A spider would not have time in its limited life to learn how to construct such a complex structure.

Sign Stimulus:

In the spring when these freshwater fish breed the male’s throat and belly turn red. If one male intrudes into the territory of another male, its red color acts as a sign stimulus that produces a fixed–action pattern. The occupying fish drives out the intruder.

Learned Behaviors:

Learning occurs when animal adapts to its surroundings by changing its behavior. By responding to experiences and adaptive to changing conditions, an animal increases its chances of survival. Learning takes time and animals that are dependent on learned behavior have long lives and large brains.

Trial and Error Learning:

An animal will associate an action it carries out with successful results, such as getting food or defeating a rival. This reward motivates the animal to alter its behaviour to improve the result of future actions.

Learning Tool Use:

Some animals learn to use simple tools in order to feed. Sea otters, found off the coast of California - USA, swim on their backs with a stone on their chests on which they smash the shells of clams and mussels to get at the juicy contents. Young otters learn tool use from their parents.

Insight Learning:

This involves a form of reasoning. Some animals can solve new problems by drawing on past experiences. Chimpanzees, having learned to extract termites or ants from a nest with stick, can exploit any shape or size of nest.


This is shown by some young animals that make a strong bond with their parent soon after hatching or birth. Young duckling, for example, stays close to their mother and improves their chances of survival under her protection.


Animals communicate by sending out signals that are recognized by other animals and alter their behaviors in some way. The signals can be sights, sounds or scents. Communication is used to find a mate, threaten rivals or enemies, defend a territory, warn of danger or hold a group together.

Visual Signals:

Animals may use visual signals as a threat or to attract a mate. The puss moth caterpillar adopts a warning posture if threatened by an enemy. An enemy that ignores the warring is rewarded with a stinking squirt of formic acid.


Many animals, including crickets, bullfrogs, peacocks and whales, use sound to communicate. The male song thrush sings to proclaim his territory, to warn rivals, to stay away and to attract a female.


Some animals release chemicals called pheromones which, when detected, affect the behaviors of other members of the same species. Female gypsy moths release pheromones that attract males from several kilometers away.


Mating in most mammals and birds takes place only at certain times of the year. Courtship describes the behavior used by male animals to attract a female and mate with her. It informs a potential mate that the intention is breeding and not aggression. During courtship, males usually compare with each other to attract females, advertise that they are ready to mate and encourage females to be sexually responsive. Females select males by the quality of their courtship display.

Domestic Cats:

A female cat comes on heat or is sexually responsive about twice a year. She produces scents and calls loudly to attract males. Several males may compete for her by fighting. The successful male encourages the female by touching her and calling softly.

Bird of Paradise:

Most birds have fixed courtship displays that ensure they attract a mate of the same species. Male birds often have brighter plumage than females and this is especially true of the emperor bird of parodies. Males compete for females by quivering their long feathers and calling loudly.

Territorial Behavior:

Many animals defend their territory to maintain access to food, water, shelter and somewhere to reproduce. Territories can be large or small and held by one animal or by a group. Birdsong or the marking of territorial boundaries may deter rivals from entering a territory and avoid confect and possible fatal injuries.


Most cats are solitary and maintain a territory on their own. Cheetahs patrol their territory and mark its boundaries by spraying urine on trees and other landmarks. The scent warns neighboring cheetahs not to intrude.


Like many gull species, kittiwakes nest in colonies on narrow cliff ledges. Each pair of birds defends a small territory on the ledge, just large enough for the female to lay eggs and raise their young.


Animals show aggression to other members of their species when competing for food, water, shelter or mates. Some animals use horns. Some use teeth or claws. And others kick. In many cases animals signal their aggressive intent. This may defuse the situation and prevent injury.

Aggression within a Species:

The bighorn sheep use their horns to clash head–on in competitions for mates. The Winner of the fight gains higher social ranking and more females. Aggression like this is highly ritualized and neither make is likely to be injured.

Aggression between Species:

Animals may be aggressive towards member of other species that are threatening or attacking them. Some animals use a threat display, often making them bigger to deter enemies. The porcupine fish inflates its body like a balloon and erects it spines.

Social Behavior:

Social animals live in groups. Individuals co–operate to find food, defend themselves and look after the young. Social groups range from shoals of fish which are purely defensive to societies of honeybees where social organization affects all aspects of an individual’s life.

Helping others:

African wild dogs are social animals and often help each other. Male dogs will look after pups that are not their own but were fathered by a brother or close relative. In this way they help pups to survive.

Living in Large Number:

Many fish species swim close together in large numbers called shoals. A shoal moves and turns in a co - ordinate manner that mimics a single large living organism. Predators find it difficult to focus on one individual within the shoal.

Konrad Lorenz:

Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz (1903 – 89) pioneered the study of animal behavior. As part of his work on individual and group behaviors, Lorenz discovered imprinting Lorenz shared a Nobel Prize in 1973 for his work.

Social Insects:

Within a colony social insects, such as bees, there are groups that carry out certain tasks. In a bee colony a single queen lays eggs while sterile female workers look after the young, collect food and defend the colony. Male bees fertilize the queen.

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