Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ethology- Monkey See Monkey Do

Like kamikaze fighters, the worker bees swing into action to protect the sacred hive and its colonists; but like cowards, the emperor penguins stand on the edge of the water before diving, fearing the predatory seals. Meanwhile, the copulating female praying mantises eat the heads of their male partners; earning both a meal some transient satisfaction. And while the animal kingdom blooms with elegance and symmetry, there remains the finer corners and corridors of animal behaviour; tales of altruism and selfishness, deception and cooperation and epics of courtship and play. For unlike the behaviourist, with his laboratory of habitation, the ethologist is at the crux of the self-organising societies of the birds and bees. Consider instinct with its appetitive and consummated stages, a cocktail of environmental cues and temporary satisfaction; in this regard, the leopard frog orients itself to catch a fly using a the fixed-action-pattern of the flick of the tongue. And Lorenz's greylag goose fixes and orients itself in rolling its egg round its nest, remove the egg and it she will resume the tucking beak movements but cease the side-to-side manoeuvres that kept the egg straight. Such genetically centred, innate patterns of instinctive behaviour, born and bred via natural selection forms a treasury of parables and allegories that the ethologist enquires. But even the most rudimentary acts of play by juvenile polar bears, young red foxes or even female moose and their young has been subject to anthropomorphic interpretations, yet is a form of learning posing as a social function with a consummated goal such as food and pleasure. Likewise we observe the contrasting faces of selfishness and altruism; for if the selfish genes deploy the paradoxical yet altruistic behaviour as seen in cooperative fishing by cormorants and pelicans as well as the defensive herding by muskoxen and yaks around vulnerable females, than we must revamp the paradigm that both are mutually exclusive. Indeed courtship and the reproductive behaviours of animals is worth noting, where persuasion and strategy influenced by the sexual dimorphism is driven the maximise the reproductive success of the species. And as we converge on the incessant courtship of albatrosses, with their 'sky-calling' and 'bill-clappering'; as well as the glamorous dance of the peacock, we see a common convergence. Aggression and the clash for territorial 'real estate' demonstrates the sheer extent that troops of chimpanzees, packs of hyenas and especially Male sea elephants resort to; in order that the combatant instills his brawn, leaving the weaker to retreat. And above all, the learning and conditioning of species played out by the synergy and interplay of their environment with their appetitive or consumated behaviours hints the intersection between ethology and behaviorism. Simply reconcile the habituation of a reef fish with its neighbors, the unconditioned response invoking a conditioned behavior in Pavlov's dogs or even Skinner's rats. There's a definite correlate between animal behavior and some respective adaptations; take Kramer's orientation cage as a final example, where navigation by birds is made contingent by learned patterns of migration as revealed by subjecting birds to an artificial light-dark schedule and following their migratory patterns. And indeed such patterns are reminiscent of the order and symmetry that is in nature per se; for if animal behavior becomes intelligible via ethology than we are one among many.


  1. Hi hasan. I found this article a great one and actually very interesting.

  2. Thanks so much ;) It's the first time I write about animals and behavior.