Tag Archives: Ethology

ethology Investigates 2013

A little announcement for ethology fans/nerds out there:

The next online conference ethology Investigates will take place from the 15th to the 17th of April, focusing this year on “the behavior of invasive species and their impact on the host environment.”

Check out their website for information on how to register and participate in the discussion.

PS: Boy, I’m just content spamming today, aren’t I?

On crowd-sourcing in animal behaviour research

Science–Public (post illustration)

Science <–> Public

Or in science in general, really.

The basic idea is the following: what if researchers used the public as a bunch of data collectors? Organisations such as ‘Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’ already engage people to become citizen scientists (more about them on their website).

Nelson and Fijn (2012) recently suggested that visual media could be extremely valuable for studying animal behaviour. Specifically, they discussed how YouTube video clips of play behaviour, given they met certain requirements, can help explore hypotheses and further ideas by providing inspiration. As they conclude:

… displaying behaviour using YouTube as a visual medium is an excellent avenue to report or illustrate findings in the field of animal behaviour, in addition to its potential for further observation and research.

For links to hilariously cute videos, I definitely recommend taking a look at their paper (see below)!

I have to say, this essay brought quite a few ideas to my mind. For example, why not formalise crowd-sourcing like this by creating an online platform dedicated expressly to citizen scientists’ recordings – video clips as well as photos? These wouldn’t need to be restricted to animal behaviour, either. I imagine a variety of content, from corvids playing in the snow to peculiar rock formations, accompanied by information on the recording (time, location, weather context, etc.).

Maaaybee I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Either way, I’m excited for the future and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more projects actively bringing science and the public together.

What about you? Has content from social media ever been an inspiration for your research?


Nelson, X. J., & Fijn, N. (2012). The use of visual media as a tool for investigating animal behaviour. Animal Behaviour, 1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.12.009

Professional associations in ethology

Credit: Atos International

Credit: Atos International

Professional associations embody and further the professional or scientific field they are concerned with. Through their websites, they are an extremely useful source of job and internship listings, mailing lists, newsletters, links to other associations, as well as information on conferences, meetings, grants and awards, courses, programs and workshops. This is why I think it is a good idea to learn about them, perhaps join one or two that are closest to your interests and/or geographical range, but at the very least bookmark their websites and subscribe to their mailing list if they have one.

I have compiled a list of animal behaviour associations that are ‘field’-specific, rather than taxon-specific (except may be for the very last one), dividing them in ‘generalists’ and ‘specialists’. It is possible that I failed to mention one or more that you may think should be included here. If so, don’t forget to mention it in the comments.


The International Council of Ethologists‘ [ICE] website features an extensive list of associations organized by country or continent. Plus, it co-organized ‘Behavior 2013’, happening in August in Newcastle, UK, which gives reason to look forward to their next conferences (I think).

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology [SICB] has 7 awards and scholarships for students, a rather impressive listing of jobs and fellowships, TONS of information and resources, and an annual meeting. The society is structured in divisions by sub-fields and there is one for animal behaviour.

The Society for the Quantitative Analyses of Behavior [SQAB] has a journal – Behavioural Processes, an annual symposium, links to lab pages from members, as well as an announcements list and a Yahoo! eGroup that can be subscribed to.

The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour [ASAB] is based in the UK. It organizes meetings at least thrice a year and offers a rather wide range of grants, even to undergraduates. It also provides links to some other associations according to research topics. Its journal is Animal Behaviour.

The Animal Behavior Society [ABS] concerns North America but it is related to ASAB through Animal Behaviour. It offers a total of 15 different grants and awards (!!!) and its ABSNews forum always has interesting postings.

The Australasian Society for Study of Animal Behaviour [ASSAB] provides student research grants and a variety of student prizes.

The Société Québecoise pour l’Etude Biologique du Comportement [SQEBC] is based in Québec, Canada, so its website can be viewed in either French or English. It contains brief explanations about certain research areas, a directory of university departments in which animal behaviour is studied, and, finally, a list of associations and journals. It also has a mailing list.

The Société pour l’Etude du Comportement Animal [SFECA] is French. It has directories, an active mailing list, offers awards to either french or foreign scientists, including young researchers.

The Ethologische Gesellschaft concerns German-speaking countries and the Netherlands. It awards the Niko Tinbergen (for post-docs) prize every other year and funds research. Its booklet ‘Etho News’ is published twice a year and is available on their website, as are job vacancies and an index of research institutes. Its journal is Ethology.

The Argentinian Association for the Behavioural Sciences [AACC] meets once a year. Its website contains, among other things, a list of publications and links of interest (all in spanish).

The Sociedad Portuguesa de Etologia [SPE] is Portuguese. I can’t read the language so I don’t have much more information.


The International Society for Behavioral Ecology [ISBE] has conferences every other year and a journal – Behavioral Ecology. It posts available positions and gives an award for excellence in research.

The Comparative Cognition Society [CCS] has a database of papers published by their members, 3 communication resources that you can sign up for, a YouTube channel and a Facebook group. The CCS Research Award honors contributions to our understanding of animal cognition. You can also find on its website photos of past conferences.

The International Society for Comparative Psychology [ISCP] hosts a biennial meeting. On their website, there are links to numerous other associations, information about their meetings, but most notably, free online issues of the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.

The Spanish Society for Comparative Psychology [SEPC] has meetings every year and a Facebook group.

The International Society for Neuroethology [ISNE] hosts congresses in addition to meetings on more specific topics. It offers awards to students, young and confirmed researchers. Its website features educational resources, links, and job opportunities.

The Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology [SBN] offers lots of awards. You can find links of interest on their website but information on jobs is visible only to members.

The International Society for Applied Ethology [ISAE] organizes international congresses and regional meetings. It posts employment opportunities and other useful information.

The International Society for Human Ethology [ISHE] has a biennial conference, a biennial summer institute and 3 awards for doctoral students.

You can find a search engine and more information on scholarly societies here.

Reptilian Societies

Have you ever read (or watched) Dinotopia? It is a book (and TV) series about a land where dinosaurs never went extinct. Not only that, but they also managed to create a civilization where humans and “saurians” live together in relative harmony. What always fascinated me in Gurney‘s work was the idea of reptiles, in this case dinosaurs, manifesting social behaviour paralleling humans’. Unfortunately, reptiles have, in comparison to mammals and birds, been disregarded in vertebrate social behaviour research.

Another ctenosaura lizard (Costa Rica)

A Ctenosaura lizard (Costa Rica)

In their review, Doody, Burghardt and Dinets (2013) discuss the reasons behind this neglect. They describe how reptiles have traditionally been placed in the ‘non-social’ category of the ‘social–non-social’ dichotomy. According to them, this dichotomy is too simplistic and therefore deceptive as it fails to represent the variety of social systems in the animal kingdom. In fact, studying reptile social behaviour should help understand the mechanisms and evolution of complex social behaviour. The bias in research towards mammals and birds can be explained by the fact that it is easier to study “vertebrate groups whose communication systems are more salient to human sensory perception” (Doody et al. 2013, p. 96).

Besides, the inconspicuousness of reptiles and their nests creates an apparent absence of social behaviour in these animals, especially parental care. And let us not forget other human originated obstacles, such as the difficulty to get funding for such studies.

For some species, at least, social behaviour is observable in the egg stage. For example, pig-nosed turtle Carettochelys insculpta embryos make hatching happen faster when they sense vibrations coming from their siblings. Embryos of Nile crocodiles Crocodylus niloticus can adjust the synchronization of hatching and stimulate mothers by vocalizing. Parental care is rather rare, but tuataras Sphenodon punctatus and iguanas stay with the eggs for several days. Hatchling iguanas lacking packing parental care protect themselves using group vigilance.

Crocodilian mothers stay for the whole incubation period and beyond! They excavate and break the eggs, communicate vocally with their eggs and hatchlings, carry hatchlings to water, feed and protect them. Biparental care, which is the norm in vertebrates like canids and cichlids, has actually been recently documented in crocodilians (Brueggen, 2010, and Whitaker, 2007, cited by Doody et al. 2013).

Green iguana Iguana iguana lounging around (Costa Rica)

Green iguana Iguana iguana lounging around (Costa Rica)

Another pic of the same iguana, just because it's so gorgeous.

Another pic of the same iguana, just ’cause it’s so gorgeous.

Group of american crocodiles Crocodylus acutus resting (Costa Rica)

Group of american crocodiles Crocodylus acutus resting (Costa Rica)

American crocodile Crocodylus acutus going into the water (Costa Rica)

American crocodile going into the water (Costa Rica)

Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas (Madagascar)

Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas (Madagascar)

What about social behaviour beyond parental care? For one thing, snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodilians display conspicuous territoriality visible through the signals, postures and combats of males.

In addition, it is common for some lizards to form large and stable social groups. The ones formed by lizards of the genus Egernia show “kin recognition, inbreeding avoidance mechanisms, parental care, group antipredator behaviors and long-term social and genetic monogamy of up to 20 yr” (Doody et al. 2013, p. 98). Cooperative breeding occurs in broad-snouted caimans Caiman latirostris and other caimans and alligators as they form multi-parental crèches. In any case, much research is necessary to be able to correctly estimate the proportion of reptile species to live in groups.

Cooperative hunting is another example of an advanced behaviour not formally depicted. As you can see in this BBC video, banded sea kraits Laticauda colubrina are sea snakes that compensate for their slowness by hunting communally.

Alligators Alligator mississippiensis have also been observed feeding cooperatively (Dinets, 2010). They can gather in small areas where water depth does not exceed 50 cm and spend up to 6 hours circling the area and catching fish.

Common wall lizard capturing a butterfly (France)

Common wall lizard Podarcis muralis capturing a butterfly (France)

I should mention as well that reptiles have complex mating systems, which include polygyny, polyandry, monogamy and parthenogenesis, accompanied by varied courtship behaviours. Social play has, too, been recorded in crocodilians, lizards and turtles.

Perhaps, in real life, reptiles do not exactly parallel human social behaviour, but they are definitely not ‘non-social’. There is a lot more to learn about them and I am excited for what new information future research will bring.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional herpetologist, so I might have made mistakes in identifying the animals presented in the photographs. If you have spotted an error, please feel free to correct me in the comment section.


Dinets, N. (2010). Nocturnal behaviour of american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the wild during the mating season. Herpetological Bulletin, 111, 4-11. link

Doody, J. S., Burghardt, G., & Dinets, V. (2013). Breaking the social–non-social dichotomy: a role for reptiles in vertebrate social behavior research? Ethology, 119, 95-103. doi: 10.1111/eth.12047

Doody, J. S., Stewart, B., Camacho, C., & Christian, K. (2012). Good vibrations? Sibling embryos expedite hatching in a turtle. Animal Bheaviour, 83(3), 645-651. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.12.006

Symonds, D. (Producer) & Brambilla, M. (Director). (2002/II). Dinotopia [TV series]. Worldwide: Hallmark Entertainment Distribution LLC.

Vergne, A. L., & Mathevon, N. (2008). Crocodile egg sounds signal hatching time. Current Biology, 18(12), R513-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.04.011

Vergne, A. L., Pritz, M.B., & Mathevon. N. (2009). Acoustic communication in crocodilians: from behaviour to brain. Biological Reviews, 84, 391-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00079.x

What is ethology, anyway?

behav defSimply put, it is the science of behaviour. But what does this involve exactly? Well, many things, in fact.

Let us start with what behaviour is. Definitions can be found in many sources, including any one dictionary, encyclopedia, scientific or popular article. Professor Langaney, my Introduction to Behavioural Biology teacher, described it as the way in which an organism responds to a stimulus in its environment. This definition is rather broad as it can be applied equally to a dog eating a cookie and to a tree growing its roots around obstacles in the ground. My personal favorite characterization of behaviour comes from a document published by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour: it “is a pervasive and fundamental property of living organisms, ranging from the simple responses of bacteria to the intricate social interactions of humans.”

It is clear, then, that behaviour does not solely concern animals, but in fact all living organisms, and that it can refer to observable as well as ‘less-observable’ actions.

Source: Sandwalk

Source: Sandwalk

I cannot forget to mention here Tinbergen’s 4 questions. They represent 4 interconnected categories of explanations for behaviour: the mechanisms of causation, the lifespan development (ontogenesis), the adaptive function and the evolution (phylogenesis).

Now, what about the nature of research in animal behaviour? As a matter of fact, topics in this domain are varied, diverse, multiple, <insert synonym here>. The reason for this is its essentially interdisciplinary and integrative quality. Behaviour is studied across different levels of analysis and explanation, through different taxonomic groups and levels of classification (from molecules to biological systems), in the laboratory and in the field. It therefore spans several fields of science, which include but are not limited to:

  • evolutionary biology -> the descent and origins of species
  • ecology -> the distribution and amount of organisms, and the interactions that determine them
  • psychology -> the mind and behaviour
  • anthropology -> human societies, cultures and their development
  • neuroscience -> the structure and function of the brain and nervous systems
  • physiology -> the way living organisms function
  • molecular genetics -> the structure and activity of genetic material

That is not all, for there are also several ‘subdomains’ to ethology that can be grouped together according to the Tinbergen question they tend to try and answer. I might describe them more fully in future posts, but for now here are some examples: behavioural ecology, comparative psychology, cognitive ethology, behavioural genetics, animal welfare, sociobiology.

It seems like an entangled and complexe situation. It can be. However, this has a significantly positive repercussion in relation to schooling. Indeed, many roads lead to a career in animal behaviour research. There are even more roads if you take into account non-research professions such as animal training or veterinarian practice (and more).

This is where I would like to encourage anyone interested in animals and science to learn about and come join our multi-faceted ‘family’. Behaviour is complicated and so is life, so let us learn about it together!

I do not apologize for the corniness 😉

Main Reference:

The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (no date). Research in animal behaviour: what and why. Retrieved from http://asab.nottingham.ac.uk/downloads/brochure.pdf

Octopus Tool Use

Common octopus Octopus vulgaris. Credit: OpenCage Systems.

Common octopus Octopus vulgaris. Credit: OpenCage Systems

According to St. Amant and Horton (2008, cited by Bentley-Condit & Smith), tool use can be defined as the use of an object to either alter the physical properties of another one or to mediate the flow of information between the user and its environment (non exhaustive definition). It has been observed and studied in various vertebrate species, perhaps most typically in primates, passerines and corvids. Among the invertebrates catalogued as tool users, which include several ant species, cephalopods seem to be only “borderline” users. Nonetheless, the internet contains some compelling videos showing octopuses with coconut shells:

[brightcove vid=57069207001&exp3=2227271001&surl=http://c.brightcove.com/services&amp
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