9.20 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Animal Behavior


Homework Assignments

Homework 1

  1. How could Jim Corbett follow the movements of a leopard through the nearby jungle although he could not see it through the foliage?
  2. On causation: the sensory triggers of innate behavior: Describe how “dummy stimuli” were used to discover properties of females that attract male stiklebacks motivated for mating.
  3. Write a brief proposal for an experiment using either “dummy stimuli” or artificially altered stimuli to investigate key stimulus properties used by Kittiwake gulls to decrease the aggression of a conspecific.
  4. Using Google Scholar, find one interesting report concerning the behavior of stickleback fish, Jackdaws, or Kittiwake gulls published since 2009. Write a single paragraph, no more than a half page, describing a major finding. Suggested search terms: “Stickleback fish antipredator behavior” (or some other type of behavior). “Jackdaw cognitive abilities.” “Kittiwake gull behavior.”

Homework 2

Do Google Scholar searches for “ethogram,” for any date, for articles since 2009, and for articles from 2012. Find an article that interests you. Write a one-page description, giving the website, the animal’s name (scientific and popular), a brief description of the ethogram (which may by a partial or more comprehensive ethogram). In a final paragraph, describe what you find most interesting about this animal.

Homework 3

  1. The visual stimulus of a moving fly causes an orienting movement of a frog and arouses its motivation to capture the fly. Where is the innate releasing mechanism? How was it discovered (scientists, place, nature of experiments)?
  2. Describe major differences between the models of instinctive behavior described by Konrad Lorenz and by Niko Tinbergen, pointing out advantages of each model.
  3. Give an example of “insight” learning in an animal other than an ape. Include a brief definition of insight. Answer by summarizing one article found in a Google Scholar search. Possible search terms: Insight in animals? Higher cognition in elephants. Insight in elephants? Corvid intelligence. (Limit the answer to about ½ page.)
  4. Find one article on navigation in insects other than the studies of desert ants by Wehner (to be) discussed in class. E.g., search “visual navigation” using Google Scholar. Briefly summarize major points in the report. (Limit the answer to ½ page.)

Homework 4

Questions on Meerkats:

  1. What inter-species interactions were indicated, not specifically involving predation?
  2. Give at least two examples of communication among the meerkats.
  3. Describe two examples of “altruistic” helping behaviors. For one of these, what evidence would support the conclusion that this behavior is a fixed action pattern?
  4. Describe at least two behaviors that appear to be FAPs used in foraging by meerkats.
  5. What is the major adaptation of this species to predators?
  6. There are some inaccuracies in the portrayal of meerkat behavior in the video and the narration by George Page. Describe one, using reports in the literature (use Google Scholar).

Homework 5

  1. Why do honeybees dance in the hive, communicating the location of nector and pollen sources? What are some proximate and ultimate hypotheses? (Describe one ultimate and two proximate hypotheses.) [From Alcock appendix]
  2. Statement by Stephen Jay Gould: “An evolutionary speculation can only help if it teaches us something we don’t know already—if, for example, we learned that genocide was biologically enjoined by certain genes” (Natural History, 1996) Why does this illustrate a failure to distinguish proximate and ultimate causes? [From Alcock appendix]
  3. Do a Google Scholar search for research articles on “sperm competition” published since 2008. Write a paragraph summarizing the findings of one article about a particular species that interests you. Limit your choice to non-human species (although the number of articles about human sperm competition has increased in recent years).

Homework 6

Suggested readings for homework 6 are Lectures 20–21 and Alcock, The triumph of sociobiology: Chapters 2, and 3. Read the questions carefully as posed by Alcock (pp. 225, and 226, chapters 2, and 3). In each case, give a response that a sociobiologist would give. Only question two will require more than a few words in order to answer adequately.

  1. Why does the product of a gene that improves memory decrease with age, in studies of mice? Criticize the student explanation described by Alcock. (Alcock Appendix p. 225: Chapter 2)
  2. Are certain behavioral differences between individuals or races genetic in origin? (E.g., criminality, intelligence, athletic ability, etc.) How might a sociobiologist approach this? (Appendix p. 226: Chapter 3)
  3. Are instincts more strongly controlled by genes than is learned behavior? (Appendix p. 226: Chapter 3)
  4. Do male prairie voles possess a “gene for monogamous behavior” according to the research described by Alcock? (Appendix p. 226: Chapter 3)

Homework 7

Find two different topics that can be used to write a PowerPoint presentation that you can later present in the final presentation. (During your searches and work on this week’s homework, most of you will decide which topic you want to continue to work on for this final project.)

Write a paragraph about each topic, summarizing why it is interesting to you. For each topic, list three references (full citations including titles) to papers (or books) that could be used in working on the report.

Be sure to read the presentation assignment carefully.

Extra Credit Homework

Read at least two articles (they may be online articles) on the field of evolutionary psychology. Write a brief review, including the definition and the origins of the term. Distinguish between sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Also, describe a couple of the controversies that this field has generated.

Final Presentation Assignment

Each 9.20 student must prepare a Powerpoint file for giving a 10-min oral presentation to other class members and an instructor. These presentations will be given in the sessions 32–35. All presentation files must be submitted in final form 2 days after Lecture 33. Scoring will be based on the written file.

Prior to the presentations, at times to be determined shortly after the midterm, students will submit, on the course web site, preliminary versions of their reports that include at least 3 references. This version may be in a Powerpoint file or a Word file, with a clear topic and ideas, and also 1–2 illustrative pictures (photos, drawings or graphs). Some students will be asked thereafter to visit the professor or a TA in order to discuss the report. Any student may opt to visit the professor or one of the TAs to discuss the report or to give a warm-up to the final presentation in order to obtain suggestions for improvement.

Sources in addition to class readings and talks: Recent literature in animal behavior and sociobiology found using Google Scholar. Try to read at least 10 papers. Cite 5 or more sources shown in a numbered list on the final slide. (Number of reports read or cited will vary with the specific topic.) In the previous slides, make citations by numbers in parentheses, so the sources of the information presented are clear. Books may also be used if these can be supplemented with journal articles. (Extensive use of a recent book may reduce the required number of papers needed—by agreement with the instructor.)

We expect you to find scientific articles in the professional literature of the fields of animal behavior, sociobiology, and related fields. These may also include articles in American Scientist, Natural History or Scientific American. We expect you to select some of the most recent work on your topic, using earlier work to provide background and fill in your knowledge.

If you choose a topic that has been used by a student in a prior 9.20 class, it will very likely be rejected. We expect real scholarly effort, and the ability to demonstrate knowledge of recent work and questions that investigators have been trying to answer or that they have proposed. You should attempt to formulate your own critique and questions in addition to what you find in the reports consulted. You are sure to come up with some questions while doing your literature study.

Theme of presentation: Make this clear at the outset. This theme should not be a general survey of the behavior of a single species. It should involve a question or hypothesis about animal behavior. It may use data obtained from one or more species. Present observations and experiments to answer the question or test the hypothesis. If you wish, you can come up with a testable hypothesis and the design of an experiment that could be done to test it, presenting specific findings in the animal behavior literature that are relevant to your idea(s).

In Powerpoint’s edit mode, use the Notes section below each slide to summarize information that is not on the slides but can be included in the talk. (Notes do not appear on screen during a presentation.)

Example Format for References

Wilson DS and Wilson EO (2007) Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology. Quarterly Review of Biology 82: 327–48.

Williams GC (1966) Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Audio
Lecture Notes
Presentation Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments