ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR (Part 2 of 3)   Leave a comment

Orienting Behaviour

An animal orients by adjusting its posture and position in space. It does so in relation to the source of different forms of energy in its environment. These forms include light, heat, and chemicals in the air or water, pressure, electric current, air or water currents, gravity, radiation, and magnetic fields.

Tropism, involuntary turning of a cell or organism in response to a stimulus.

Orienting behaviour may take the form of a tropism an action in which the animal simply orients its body toward or away from the source of energy without changing location. Plants can also respond in this way. However, the orienting response may take the form of a taxis a movement toward or away from the source of energy by swimming, flying, or locomotion. As a rule, only animals are capable of such responses. Still another type of orienting response is called a kinesics an increase or decrease in an animal’s activity, but in no particular direction.

Prefixes are usually added to the root words tropism, taxis, and kinesics to indicate the kind of energy to which the organism is responding. For example, geotropism is response to gravity; photo taxis, response to light. Prefixes may also indicate the type of response made. Thus klinokinesis refers to turning activities. In addition, the direction or intensity of a response may be described as positive, if directed toward a stimulus, or negative, if directed away from it.

Orientation makes it possible for an animal to feed, to exhibit social behaviour, and to avoid obstacles and barriers. Some organisms, such as the bat, use sonar reflected sound to locate prey and to avoid obstacles. Some fish can navigate through tight crevices by detecting changes in their electric field. Electronic instruments enable researchers to detect and record the sound frequencies and electricity emitted by different species.

When foraging for food, the honeybee orients to the odour of flowers and the polarization of light. It also responds to cues from the sun’s position off the horizon. This type of activity is called sun compass orientation. On returning to the hive the bee performs certain “dances” a variety of motor patterns that vary with the distance and direction of the food. These dances stimulate the other bees to travel the path of the returning bee.

Fish and birds also exhibit compass orientation when homing or migrating. However, scientists are not sure that animals navigate in the same way as man. When humans navigate, they use such instruments as the sextant to find the altitude of the sun and stars and a chronometer for timekeeping. It has not yet been demonstrated that homing and migrating animals can “shoot an azimuth” and “tell time.”

Some animals are known to return to the areas where they were born or spawned. The salmon, for example, upon reaching sexual maturity responds to the chemical characteristics of the stream in which it was spawned. The hormonal changes associated with sexual maturity are a cause of this new sensitivity. The stickleback moves from salty to brackish water to reproduce. Its behaviour is related to endocrine gland responses to seasonal fluctuations in light. Similar hormonal changes in birds lead to migration and reproduction. These cyclic changes in behaviour due to hormonal regulation are considered evidence of a chronometer that might enable migrating or homing animals to correlate changes in visual cues during compass orientation with changes in internal rhythms and thus make navigation possible.

Social Behaviour

All living things relate to other members of their species. In an amoeba, the relationship occurs only during the short time it takes the animal to split into two animals. In other species, such as the social insects, the relationship is so necessary that they cannot survive as individuals. This is true also of humans, who are dependent on others until they reach maturity. Social organization of some kind is common to all animals. However, the type of organization varies with the nervous system of the species. And in true social organization, animals of the same species react to each other.

Con-specifics, or animals of the same species, may at times be close to each other without exhibiting social behaviour For example, mollusc larvae may respond to changes in the intensity of light by swimming to the water surface. The resultant grouping, called an aggregation, stems from a common response to a physical aspect of the environment. But a response is truly social only when it is a response to visual, chemical, auditory, or other stimuli emanating from a con-specific As a result of such stimuli, animals may approach each other to form a bond or to fight. Although dissimilar, both reactions are examples of social behaviour

Goby, any of numerous, widely distributed, spiny-finned fishes constituting family Gobiidae, having wide, flat head, large mouth, and ventral fins often united in funnel-shaped disk.

The type of bond formed by con-specifics is a measure of their nervous and hormonal systems. Organisms with relatively simple systems may respond to each other only as long as they give off attractive or offensive stimuli. For example, a worm will approach another worm during the reproductive state because certain chemicals are released. Once mating has occurred, they have nothing further to do with each other. A goby will remain near its eggs only as long as the hormonal state of the fish and the chemical and visual features of the eggs remain the same. Once the fry, or young, hatch, the fish responds to them as it would toward any small fish and tries to eat them. The goby does not recognize the fry as its own offspring.

Although orientation, changing hormonal levels, and other processes play a part, social bonding depends primarily on a mutual exchange of stimulation and food between animals. The give-and-take stimulation of a pair or a group is fundamental to the organization of social groups.

The Army Ant Colony – An Example of a Social Group

An army ant colony consists of many thousands of workers and a queen. The queen is capable of laying large batches of infertile eggs when she is fed sufficiently. These eggs hatch into workers, females incapable of sexual reproduction. However, at a certain stage of the queen’s development she produces a brood of males and females capable of reproducing and starting new colonies.

The colony has a two-phase cycle of activity. The nomadic phase lasts about 18 days. By late afternoon or early evening, the larger workers cluster and leave the bivouac area where they spent the previous night. They move out over many yards in the area around the bivouac. As they crawl, they lay a chemical trail. Other ants in the colony travel over the trail, and as the trail becomes more frequently travelled the concentration of chemical stimuli on it becomes stronger. The entire colony, queen and all, eventually move out from the bivouac along the trail. The ants range over large areas, preying on other insects and their young.

Army ants take in considerable food during the nomadic phase. The queen receives a good deal of it. She does not usually forage but is able to feed on the food brought back by medium-size workers. They return to the bivouac to lick the queen for the highly attractive chemicals she exudes. Chemicals that attract or repel con-specifics and heterospecifics (members of other species) are called pheromones. The exchanges of food and secretions between the queen and the workers produce a strong social bond that aids in keeping the colony together. The queen’s increased food intake enables her to lay a batch of eggs. However, this affects her relationship with the workers. She becomes less stimulating to them, and their foraging, therefore, begins to decrease. Now the colony enters the other phase of its cycle the statuary phase. The number, frequency, distance, and area of foraging decreases considerably. The level of the entire colony’s activity drops to a minimum.

After about 21 days the eggs hatch, and the larvae emerge. These squirming, active young are an intense source of stimulation to the workers. The workers are driven out of the bivouac and the nomadic phase starts again. They are now attracted by the pheromones of the larvae and the queen. When the workers return from foraging, they drop their food and feel and handle the larvae with their antennae and legs. As a result of this excitation, the number and frequency of raids again increase. The colony travels great distances, the larvae are fed, and the queen is overfed. At this point, the colony consists of the queen, workers, and larvae.

About 18 days after the eggs have hatched, the larvae enclose themselves in cocoons and become pupae. At about the same time, the queen lays her next batch of eggs. Now the colony consists of the queen, workers, pupae, and developing eggs. However, the pupae and the eggs offer little stimulation for the workers, and the statuary slowdown begins. But the queen continues to secrete pheromones that socially bind the colony.


In communities of certain animals the ruling, or dominant, animal is the largest, strongest, or most aggressive and thereby exerts the most influence on the other animals in the group. The dominant animal enjoys the greatest and most preferential access to members of the opposite sex and control of the best territory for feeding and breeding. Many groups of animals, most notably baboons, birds, foxes, lions, and crocodiles, establish dominance hierarchies. The best-known example is the pecking order of chickens. Flock members are arranged on the “rungs” of a social ladder, with each chicken superior to those below and subordinate to those above. The top animal has primary access to the necessities of life, such as the best food, mates, and living quarters. Submissive animals are left with less-desirable food, mates, and living quarters. Such animals may even be expected to groom dominant members and to help care for the offspring of more dominant animals, because subordinates are often prevented from having offspring of their own.

In other animal groups, dominance hierarchies are more complicated. Wolf packs, for example, are led by two dominants who have three subclasses of subordinates below them. Other animals have only one dominant leader with all other animals below him or her being exactly equal. Once an animal has established dominance, challenges to the order are rarely made from within the group, since animals are reluctant to fight other animals that are bigger, stronger, or more aggressive than they are themselves. Sometimes, however, animals from outside the group can successfully challenge and overthrow a long-time leader, but this is rare.

In more intelligent species, such as baboons, factors beyond mere size and strength determine the dominance hierarchy. Age seniority, hormonal condition, maternal lineage, and personality are sometimes factors that affect dominance in more intelligent animals. In baboon groups, furthermore, hierarchies are often elaborate. Adult males are dominant over less mature males and females; yet a fully mature female can be dominant over a less mature male. A dominant baboon displays its superiority with rapid “fencing” manoeuvres, open-jaw displays, and hitting.

Close Bonds Among Animals

Animals with complex nervous systems, ranging from some fish to mammals, may form monogamous bonds. The mates of such species stay together for a breeding season or even for a lifetime. Their social ties are not restricted by the time-bound, immediate stimulation that simpler animals need. However, monogamous pairs must be able to identify their mates from other con-specifics This requires the intricate action of an advanced nervous system.

Some birds and many mammals band in large groups, such as herds and families. These groups include adult males and females and offspring of different ages. The offspring in most mammalian groups remain with the group until they reach sexual maturity. The females frequently remain until the group splits up. Some socially bonded groups of mammals consist of an older male, a number of younger males, many females, and immature offspring. Among the howler monkeys and some other mammals, the younger males band together into a marginal bachelor group until each establishes himself as the older male in a new social group.

Not all mammals maintain elaborate group arrangements. Many live fairly solitary lives, coming together only for mating. Afterwards, the female remains with the litter until the young become juveniles or are sexually mature. In some instances, the mating pair stay together until the young are born. Beavers behave in this way. In other instances, the male and the female separate immediately after mating. This is true of many other rodents.


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