If you happen to own a pet animal or bird, then you must have observed a few common behaviour in them. Based on the type of stimulus, the behaviour could be normal or bizarre. Cat owners, who gets woken up in the middle of the night by their cat’s strange sleeping patterns, might relate. Animal behaviour offers fascinating insights into how animals adapt and survive within their environments. Each behaviour is a finely tuned response to ecological challenges, driven by evolutionary forces that have shaped the behaviours we observe today. Exploring these behaviours deepens our understanding of the animal kingdom. Animal behaviour are intriguing to watch and are widely studied and observed by scientists. We, humans have got control over most of our natural behaviour, except reflex actions. The act of feeding and mating remains a matter of choice for us. However, in case of animals, their behaviour makes a vital part of their survival. Animal behaviour refers to how animals interact with their environment, other animals, and themselves. It includes a wide range of actions including foraging, communication, reproductive, parenting, hunting, social, and territorial behaviour, etc. Basically, there are two types of animal behaviours: Innate (instinctive) and Learned. Animals show innate behaviour in response to a stimulus and act on natural instinct. Learning behaviour is acquired as a result of training or long-term observation. Here are some of the commonly observed animal behaviours examples in real life:
1. Migratory birds and animals
Animals migrate from one place to another in a cyclical pattern as an adaptive response to seasonal changes in weather and resource availability. Many species of birds and animals exhibit this behaviour, and it is a matter of great scientific intrigue. Birds such as the Bar-Tailed Godwit (migrates between Alaska and New Zealand), Canada Goose (migrates between Canada and the Southern United States), and Arctic Tern (migrates between Antarctica and the Arctic Circle); animals like reindeer (migrates between north and south Arctic), whales, sharks, penguins, blue wildebeest, Galapagos tortoise, and Salmon set excellent examples of migration as innate animal behaviour. These animals embark on quite extensive journeys that span continents and hemispheres. Their migratory routes are amazingly precise, utilizing natural cues such as picking up Earth’s magnetic fields and the position of the sun and stars. By migrating to their favourable feeding and breeding grounds, these animals optimize their chances of successful reproduction and survival.
2. Honeybee dance
The intricate dance of honeybee is called the waggle dance, which it uses to convey detailed information about the location of food sources to other members of the hive. Through the intensity of the dance, direction, and duration, foraging honeybees inform their hive mates about the distance and direction of nectar-rich flowers. For example, the distance of the food source is indicated by the time taken by the dancing bee to complete one circuit. Furthermore, the direction of the dancer bee’s head can also indicate the direction of the food source. Its dancing angle with respect to the sun gives out the location of the food source. This communicative behaviour ensures the efficient allocation of foragers to specific food sources, enabling the bee colony to maximize its nutritional intake and keep thriving.
3. Wolves hunting in packs
Wolves are masterful hunters who hunt in packs with the help of cooperative strategies. These strategies are part of their cooperative behaviour that allows them to take down their prey (even the most formidable ones, such as bison). The grey wolf, for instance, employs a combination of teamwork, communication, and division of labour within the pack. These coordinated pursuits involve wolves taking on different roles, such as chasers and flankers, to strategically surround and exhaust their prey. This remarkable display of coordination increases their chances of hunting success. This pack-hunting collaboration illustrates the advantages of collective effort in obtaining food for the whole pack. The pack grows stronger with stronger hunting skills.
4. Ant colony
Ant colonies exhibit a highly structured social organization. Within these colonies, individual ants have distinct roles that contribute to the overall functioning of the group. For example, the leaf-cutter ants have a caste system with roles allocated based on the size of their heads. In descending order, the hierarchy follows as majors, mediae, minors, and minims. The major ants are the largest ants in the colony and act as soldiers, defending the colony from intruders and carrying heavier food items to the nest. Mediae are the leaf-cutting foragers followed by Minor ants that ride the food items being carried out by mediae ants and protect the foragers from possible threats in the form of predators or parasites. The smallest ants are called minims which are the gardeners of the colony and tend the fungus garden (the food they grow in gardens). These ants work in unison to find food and keep the colony well-fed. When a foraging ant finds food, it sends sound signals to nearby ants by rubbing its body parts together. This process is called stridulation. The young leaves with higher sugar content are chosen by forager ants and transported back to the nest. The roles of the workers and soldier ants are to gather food and defend the colony respectively, whereas the queen focuses on reproduction. Communication is achieved via pheromones that guide behaviour and ensure efficient division of labour, resource allocation, and colony survival.
5. Chameleons changing colour
Chameleons are known for their remarkable colour-changing ability, which contrary to popular fiction, goes beyond camouflage. The ability to change colours is an innate behaviour that serves multiple functions, including thermoregulation (controlling inner temperature), communication, and emotion display. Chameleons have pigment cells in their skins known as chromatophores that allow them to alter their colour to match their environment or display their mood. This adaptation showcases their innate behaviour for communication in response to their surroundings and social context. A stressed chameleon appears darker in colour, while a relaxed chameleon has a lighter colour. This similar colour pattern is also used by male chameleons during mating season. They attract females with lighter colours and change to darker colours to assert dominance over other males. The light and dark colour change helps chameleons to regulate their body temperature in hot and cold climates respectively.
6. Chimpanzees using tools
Chimpanzees are among the few non-human animals known to use tools (they are primates with opposable thumbs like humans). They exhibit remarkable cognitive abilities by improvising tools for various purposes. Chimpanzees have been observed to use sticks to extract termites from the ground and use leaves as sponges to drink water. Using tools highlights their capacity for problem-solving, adaptability, and the transfer of knowledge within their communities. The German scientist Wolfgang Köhler, based on his observation on problem-solving in chimpanzees, wrote a book titled ‘The Mentality of Apes’ in 1917. Through various experiments, he concluded insight learning in chimpanzees as a means of problem-solving. In one of his experiments, he hung a banana to the ceiling inside the chimpanzees’ cage, too high for them to reach via simply reaching out or jumping. He placed a few sticks and wooden boxes in a corner and observed how the chimpanzees tried to reach the food. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the chimps were able to come to a certain solution with the help of the wooden stick and wooden boxes. After stacking the boxes on top of each other and joining two wooden sticks together, the chimpanzees managed to retrieve the banana.
This was concluded by Köhler to be the result of insight learning in chimpanzees where they visualized the whole process before actually attempting them. This was not an accidental discovery or hit-and-trial problem solving, but an answer obtained after gaining insight.
7. Peacocks’ courtship display
The courtship display of peacocks is a stunning example of how animals use visual signals to attract mates. Male peacocks spread their iconic tail feathers in a mesmerizing fan-like display while dancing and vocalizing. As mesmerizing as it is to witness for humans, this courtship display is a means of communicating genetic fitness to the peahen. Based on the entire display, the peacocks are accepted as desired mates. This courtship behaviour is innate and ensures the continuity of a healthy offspring line.
8. Bears hibernating
Animals hibernate as an adaptive response to seasonal changes in food availability and temperature. Bears, including species like the American black bear, hibernate for around 8 months to conserve energy. During hibernation, their metabolic rate significantly decreases, allowing them to conserve energy over extended periods of inactivity. This does not necessarily mean that they sleep during the entire period, but the frequency of movement, defecation, and urination is lesser in hibernation. To sustain themselves during hibernation, bears rely on stored body fat and lower their heart rate and body temperature to conserve energy. This behaviour is an evolutionary strategy that enables bears to survive harsh winters when food sources are scarce.
9. Territorial marking by felines and canines
Territorial marking is an innate behaviour found in felines (cats, tigers, and leopards) and canines (dogs, wolves, and foxes). Both domestic and wild cats show this behaviour and mark their territory with the help of scent glands on their face, paws, and tail base. By rubbing against surfaces or scratching, cats deposit pheromones that communicate territorial boundaries and establish ownership. Similar behaviour is displayed by tigers and dogs who use urine and faeces to mark their territories. Territorial marking reduces the likelihood of conflicts with other animals of the same species and serves as a means of asserting dominance. It is also a potential means of attracting mates and conveying their reproductive status.
10. Fishes swimming in groups
Fishes such as herring, tunas, and anchovies when staying in coordinated groups, they display shoaling behaviour. When they swim together in one direction, they are said to be schooling. Shoals provide numerous benefits, including predator avoidance, increased foraging efficiency, and improved reproductive success. Fishes that perform schooling benefit from a reduced risk of being targeted by predators due to the ‘confusion effect,’ where predators struggle to single out individual prey from a tightly packed group.
11. Elephants showing maternal care
Most birds and mammals display maternal care as an instinctive behaviour; however, elephants are known for their maternal care within their complex social groups. During the time of the birth, the female elephant receives protection from other females in the family. The entire family also sometimes circle around and cooperatively protects the mother while giving birth. Older females (aunts and sisters) often assist in the rearing of offspring, teaching and guiding them to procure food. This collaborative approach contributes to the overall survival of the calves and ensures that they receive nourishment, guidance, and protection to successfully integrate into the social structure of elephant herds.
12. Dolphins swimming and playing
Dolphins are known to be playful and they exhibit this behaviour via a wide range of activities like leaping, surfing, and engaging in social interactions. This behaviour serves both social and physical purposes, fostering group cohesion, strengthening social bonds, enhancing cognitive development, and honing skills essential for survival in their dynamic aquatic environment.
13. Meerkats cooperating behaviour
Did you know that a group of meerkats is called a mob or gang? Meerkats display cooperative social behaviour and live in a communal society, which is vital to their survival. They live in close association and share responsibilities in their social structure such as taking care of the young ones, hunting, foraging, and keeping an eye on predators. They take care of these roles in turns where one lot eats, while the other looks out for predators. They hunt together and are fast diggers due to their strong curved claws.
14. Birds building their nest
Nest building is a vital behaviour among birds which is one of their distinctive traits. Each bird species exhibits unique adaptations to construct suitable structures for egg incubation and chick rearing. The intricate nest designs created by weaverbirds are nature’s marvel and also exemplify their innate behaviour acquired by birth. The nests are created using grasses, leaves, and other suitable materials gathered over a rigorous and consistent pace. The designs of the nest reflect adaptations to environmental conditions, protective features, and the specific needs of each species, ensuring a safe and secure environment for offspring development.
15. Bats using echolocation for navigation
Bats use echolocation as an advanced sensory mechanism for the purpose of navigating and hunting in the dark. They emit high-frequency sound waves while flying and map the surrounding area by interpreting the returning echo. They can dodge obstacles in their way and also locate their prey. This remarkable innate behaviour enables bats to thrive in intricate cave systems and locate elusive food sources like winged insects, spiders, and rodents. Echolocation is a principal source of various technologies such as the sonar system used by submarines for orientation. Echolocation highlights the exceptional sensory capabilities of bats and displays their unique role as nocturnal hunters.
16. Penguins’ parental care
The parental care displayed by Emperor Penguins sets a remarkable example of both dedication and cooperation. Penguins lay a single egg, and both parents take on the responsibilities of incubating eggs and feeding chicks. During harsh Antarctic winters, males endure extreme cold while incubating and taking care of their eggs. The female penguin is assigned the task of travelling to the feeding ground and returning with food for all. The survivability of the family depends upon both the ability of the male to withstand the freezing temperature and the return of the female penguin with enough nourishment. This shared commitment to parenting enhances chick survival, fosters social cohesion, and illustrates the intricate balance of cooperation within penguin colonies.
17. Squirrels displaying caching behaviour
Squirrels are notoriously known as food collectors, often collecting food from human resources. They exhibit food caching behaviour by burning the collected food in multiple locations. This behaviour is an essential strategy for their survival, allowing them to store food reserves during periods of abundance to sustain themselves during scarcity. It is amazing how they can memorize the exact locations where they buried their food, considering the fact that there are too many! Squirrels rely on their keen spatial memory and sense of smell to locate their hidden food caches, showcasing their ability to plan ahead and adapt to changing food availability.
Studying animal behaviour isn’t just about satisfying our curiosity, it has significant real-life applications. Understanding animal behaviour helps us comprehend the natural world and our place in it. It provides valuable insights into evolutionary processes, ecological dynamics, and even our own behaviour as humans. From the smallest insects to the largest mammals, animal behaviours like migration, courtship displays, and cooperative parenting illustrate the ingenious ways in which animals navigate their ecosystems. Additionally, knowledge of animal behaviour is crucial for conservation efforts, animal welfare, and resolving human-wildlife conflicts. By studying and appreciating animal behaviour, we gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and the delicate balance that sustains life on Earth.