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Structures for Behavior in Animals

Aug 20, 2022
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Key Concepts

  • Behavior
  • Adaptations
  • Camouflage
  • Mimicry Hibernation
  • Migration
  • Group behavior
  • Courtship behavior

Introduction: 

We know that animals live in different environments. For example, fishes live in a pond or lake; a tiger lives on land; a monkey lives on a tree, etc. 

Every animal lives in a different environment and behaves according to the needs of that environment. 

Animals have different structures that support their behavior in such different environments. For example, fishes have fins, and birds have wings, humans have hands, etc.  

These structures help animals support their behavior. 

Explanation: 

Behavior is the way animals interact with each other and also with the environment. Animals behave in a certain way that helps them to obtain food, find mates, escape predation, hunt and survive seasonal changes. This behavior is different for different animals. 

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Behavior in animals is of two types. Sometimes, organisms are born with some behaviors. For example, a spider spinning its web, blinking in humans, etc. 

Animals have instincts or gut feelings, which help them behave in a certain way without having any experience to do so. 

Whereas sometimes animals learn to behave in a certain way in response to their environment. 

For example, a dog sitting down for a treat, a human baby walking. Such behavior is learned or gained through experience. 

A stimulus is something that causes a change in an environment. A stimulus can be external or internal. An example of an internal stimulus can be being hungry, to which an animal responds by finding and eating food. External stimulus can be a rival male entering another male’s territory. 

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Adaptations: 

Animals living in different environments show different behaviors to adapt to that particular environment. 

Adaptations are the special features or behaviors that help living things survive in their environment. Different animals show different types of adaptations. 

Camouflage:  

Camouflage is when animals hide by blending into their environment. Animals use this mechanism to protect themselves from predators. Sometimes animals also use this mechanism to hide in their surroundings and attack their prey. Examples of camouflaging animals include chameleons, snakes, spiders, owls, frogs, etc. 

An example of camouflage is seen in the arctic fox. Arctic foxes and white‐tailed jackrabbits have fur that changes from brown to white in the winter. During winter, it snows, so the brown fur of these animals can be spotted easily by predators. As a result, the animals change their coat color to white which helps them to hide in the snow from predators. 

 Camouflage in arctic fox and white-tailed jackrabbits

Mimicry: 

Mimicry is a type of camouflage in which animals copy or mimic other animals to hide or to blend in. Animals mimic other animals either by mimicking/copying their appearance, behavior, sound or odor. Mimicry helps animals to scare away predators as animals generally mimic animals that are poisonous or dangerous.  

A well-known example of mimicry can be seen in Viceroy butterflies. Viceroy butterflies mimic Monarch butterflies to safeguard them from their predators –like birds. Monarch butterflies are poisonous, so the birds stay away from Monarch butterflies. Viceroy butterflies mimic the Monarch butterflies by copying their appearance. As a result, viceroy butterflies escape predation by birds. 

Mimicry in butterflies 

Hibernation: 

Hibernation is a special adaptation in some animals in order to survive harsh and cold climate conditions in the winter. When animals hibernate, we can say that they are going into a deep and prolonged sleep. 

During winter, the temperature outside is very cold, and food is hard to find. Since animals cannot find food in extreme cold, they reduce their requirements by hibernating. Hibernation helps animals to save energy by going into a deep sleep. In addition to other adaptations for winter that animals have, hibernation is an efficient way to save energy. 

There are different patterns of hibernation that different animals follow. Generally, an animal slows down its metabolism and goes “to sleep” during hibernation. It lowers its body temperature and slows down its heartbeat and breathing, due to which its body temperature can drop close to the temperature outside. Before the winter, animals prepare themselves by eating a lot of food and storing it in their body as fat. 

During winter, they use up these fat reserves stored in their body to survive. Since there is not a lot of activity, this can last them for the entire duration of their hibernation. Not all animals hibernate. Examples of hibernating animals include bats, frogs, snakes, bears, etc. 

Examples of hibernating animals 

Migration: 

Migration is an adaptation where an animal or a group of animals travel a long distance to a new location. Migration is observed in birds, butterflies, bats, whales, hoofed animals, seals, fishes, etc. 

Animals migrate due to various reasons, which are as follows: 

  • Unavailability of food or water resource 
  • Extreme temperatures 
  • Inadequate conditions to reproduce 

During winter, the ground is covered by snow, and a lot of food sources for birds, deer and other animals are not as readily available. 

The cold temperatures are also hard to live in, often their homes are destroyed, or they cannot find proper shelter. 

In addition to weather changes and food scarcity, many migratory animals have internal signals that tell them when to get ready to migrate.  

If they waited until it was really cold and there was no food, they wouldn’t survive. 

Many animals use wind and water currents to guide them to their final destination; others use surrounding landscapes like coastlines, mountain ranges and river valleys.  

Migratory animals use the sun and stars as a compass. Animals that migrate during the day make use of the sun to navigate their way, whereas animals that migrate during the night make use of stars. 

Examples of Migration in animals: 

Each year, the zebra and wildebeest herds of the African savannah migrate in a giant clockwise circle. These animals are constantly moving. This giant circle follows the rainy seasons when food in certain areas is plentiful. 

The longest migration of any animal in the world is made by Arctic terns. Every six months, Arctic terns travel from the northern Arctic all the way across the planet to Antarctica. Then back again six months later. The entire (to and from) distance is close to 50,000 miles. Fortunately, the terns are strong and fast flying birds. They can make this roundtrip trip in about 40 days. 

Gray whales migrate between the northern waters of the Bering Sea in summer and the warmer waters of Baja California in the winter. After giving birth to their calves, they make the return trip. 

Examples of migratory animals 

Group behavior: 

Some animals can be found living in groups which can be small or large depending on the species. 

For example, the African lion pride consists of 13 lions, whereas wildebeest can be found in vast groups of over 1 million in eastern Africa. 

 Animals form groups mainly to protect and defend themselves from predators. Animals like meerkats live in a group, and every member take turns and stand up to look around for predators, especially big birds, that might attack the group. Meerkats also help take care of each other’s babies. 

Meerkat standing up to look for predators

Animals also form groups to gather food more efficiently. Honeybees are the most organized animals. In a hive, the worker bees population is the largest, and they gather food for every member of the hive. The worker bees communicate within themselves by doing a waggle dance to direct other members of their hive to flowers. Due to the combined effort of the honeybees, i.e. the queen, the workers and the drones, the honeybees are able to make the honeycomb beautiful. 

 When animals live in groups to share food, it is much easier for individuals to find mates. One of the many benefits of living together is that they do not need to travel far to find mates. For example, flamingoes form a colony ranging from 50 – 1000 individuals and find their mates in their colonies themselves. 

Courtship behavior: 

Some animals exhibit courtship behavior which is performed just before mating. Animals exhibit this type of behavior to attract females. Males and females recognize each other and get stimulated as a result of courtship behavior. Such behavior helps ensure reproductive success.  

The peacock displays its peafowl to attract the female for mating. Some animals use an odorous substance called pheromones to attract mates. Other animals perform certain dances or sound to attract mates. 

Peacock showing courtship behavior

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