9.20 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Animal Behavior


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week; 1 hour / session

Course Overview

Topics for special emphasis include:

  • Key concepts in learning.
  • Habitat selection. Nest site selection; territoriality; dispersal; migration.
  • Feeding. Foraging or stalking; prey capture; storage / hoarding; consummation.
  • Antipredator behavior. Detection; tricking the predator; defenses-individual, social; other adaptations.
  • Sexuality. Dimorphisms in body and behavior; social organization, dominance structures; evolution of sexual signals, emancipation from original uses.
  • Mating and reproduction. Pair bonding varieties and advantages; brood tending and its evolution; similarities of emancipated actions across widely different species.
  • Cooperation among conspecifics.
  • Tool use.

Course Format

The class sessions will include:

  • Lecture / discussion of key concepts in readings, using the study questions for guidance.
  • Some sessions will include viewing of selected videos.
  • Student discussion and presentations.


  • Do all assigned readings. Attempt to answer study questions before class; these will be discussed in class, along with additional material.
  • Weekly short quizzes or homework assignments.
  • Midterm and final exams.
  • Project.

Grading of Course

Quizzes & Homeworks 35
Presentation 20
Midterm Exam 15
Final Exam 30

Grading of Final Project Presentation

Relevance to class Cite specific ideas or principles of ethology and sociobiology 20
Sources Search effort, reading effort, adequacy for the report and accuracy of understanding 20
Organization & clarity of descriptions Organization of ideas with helpful use of headings; clarity of descriptions 20
Examples & Interest Examples used to explain the topic clearly and effectively; interest shown by student and generated in audience 20
Critique of existing studies and future directions Critique of studies read and future directions (your ideas about relevant work you think should be done if you were working in this field). 20

Course Calendar

1 Introduction: class requirements, various approaches to animal behavior and its study Initial assignments for student reports
2 Introduction to ethology; three-spined stickleback fish  
3 Introduction to ethology (cont.); field studies of birds; Niko Tinbergen’s questions

Homework 1 due


4 Ethology (cont.); Konrad Lorenz’ Jackdaws  
5 Ethology of geese; fixed action patterns and the CNS  
6 Fixed action patterns and the CNS (cont.)  
7 Input and output sides of innate behavior; motivation  
8 Innate behavior and motivation (cont.); Lorenz on fundamentals of ethology: The “fixed action pattern”  
9-11 Lorenz on fundamentals of ethology (cont.) Homework 2 due in Lecture 9
12-13 Evolution; development & plasticity of behavior  
14-15 Communication; Meerkats of the Kalahari Desert Homework 3 due in Lecture 14
16 Foraging; anti-predation behavior Homework 4 due
17 Anti-predation behavior (cont.)  
  Midterm Review  
    Midterm exam
18 Mating & Reproduction  
19 Introduction to Sociobiology  
20 Sociobiology subject matter  
21 Genetic influences on social behavior  
22 Videos: Domestic cat  
23 Domestic cat; scientific method in sociobiology  
24 Discoveries of sociobiology Homework 5 due
25 Discoveries of sociobiology (cont.)  
26 Critique of cultural determinism  
27 Sociobiology and culture; Practical issues and sociobiology Homework 6 due
28 “The triumph of sociobiology”; Konrad Lorenz on learning  
29 Konrad Lorenz on learning (cont.) Homework 7 due
30 Konrad Lorenz on learning (cont.); Video: The Great Apes  
31 Video: The Great Apes (cont.)  

Written reports due

Extra credit homework due

32-35 Student report presentations  

Course Info

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