Animal Behavior


Austin College

Instructor:  Steven Goldsmith
Moody Science 114 or 320A; ext. 2342 or 2204; box 61611;
Office Hours: M 9:00-10:00am and Th 1:30pm - 3:00pm

One of the most surprising and fascinating aspects of biology is that animals behave, which is to say that they respond quickly to environmental stimuli in ways that tend to enhance their survival and reproduction. This ability is so commonplace that we humans (as animals that behave) do not usually consider the incredibly complex biochemical, physiological, neurological, and structural machinery that is necessary to accomplish behavior, nor do we consider the adaptive significance of behavior. One of my goals for this course is to impart an appreciation for and fascination with animal behavior. We will examine the theoretical explanations for, and qualitative and quantitative data that address animal behavior and its evolution. Students of behavior recognize that the abiotic, biotic, and social environments are the selective forces that have shaped the behavior of all animal species. We will practice asking questions about both mechanistic and evolutionary aspects of behavior, and attempt to devise ways to answer our questions with qualitative observations or quantitative data. This course is also a lesson in field biology and natural history, because the field is where many of our important observations are made in animal behavior, and because naturalists are "pre-adapted" to be students of animal behavior.

There is no textbook for this course. Instead, I will put copies of two or three textbooks on reserve in Abell library. I will assign readings from the primary or secondary scientific literature, from popular literature (magazines, newspapers), and from sources of your own choosing (mostly electronic). I will ask you to come to class prepared to report to the class on what you have learned from your readings. Thus our class sessions are a crucial source of information. In addition to formal lecture material, much exchange of information will come from informal discussion of specific topics during class meetings, and from discussion of readings, videos, current events, and laboratory experiences. It behooves you to be good primates and participate in this type of communicative social interaction. Also, information about upcoming lab exercises, and about data analyses and lab reports, will be discussed during lecture sessions.

Links to various salient features of the course:

Course policies
Examinations Readings and assignments
(including handouts)

Individual Research project

Lecture topics
(including powerpoints)
Links to other Animal Behavior pages

Go to
Steve Goldsmith's home page

The course syllabus (pdf)

Sample exam questions (html)

Abell Library's guide to evaluating sources

Darwin's Works on-line

An interesting article about statistics in the NYT

Statistics for novices (pdf)

Basics of vertebrate neurobiology (pdf)

The "Waterboy" video clip about the medulla oblongata (not "ablangata")

A neuoranatomy tutorial (html)

The scotcharoos recipe (pdf)

Gallup et al, 2003 (article about human penis size and shape)

Seed-harvester ant foraging lab report

WHO site on FGM

All text and images on this page copyright 2009, Steven Goldsmith
Last updated 29 October 2009

The Cicada Killer wasp with prey.  This species (Sphecius speciosus) is a parasitoid.  The mother wasp locates a cicada by listening for the cicada's call, then stings the host to paralyze it, places it into a burrow, and lays an egg on it. The the egg hatches into a larva which bores into the host and feeds on the internal organs of the host, saving the vital organs for last. After about a year, the larva emerges as an adult wasp, and begins the cycle again. This photograph was taken in July 2002, in Sherman, TX

Advice on doing field biology: Most of you probably have relatively little experience in field biology. The labs in this course, in addition to their scientific content, will be an education in how to prepare for and to behave in the field. Weather conditions September in Texas can be fairly unpleasant; you should take plenty of water (at least 1 liter) when we go in the field. Pants rather than shorts will be appropriate attire for most outdoor labs, as will a light-colored shirt (I prefer 100% cotton rather that synthetics, and one with pockets). Sturdy shoes or boots are the best protection for your feet. You may want work gloves for some of the labs. A hat or other headgear is essential, as is sunscreen and sunglasses (with UV protection). A sunburn on your eyeballs is particularly unpleasant. I usually carry a set of personal articles including aspirin, lip balm, allergy medication, and toilet paper. If you have any special needs along these lines, it is usually best to bring it rather than be out in the field without it. I will provide a first-aid kit for minor injuries; broken legs and other major injuries are forbidden!

I also carry a variety of general-purpose field gear. A field notebook, a ballpoint pen (not felt-tip!) and a pencil, scissors, forceps of various sizes, a pocketknife, a tape measure, a handlens, and a compass live in a dedicated field backpack and always go with me in the field. A wristwatch is also an essential item. In addition to these items, I take whatever equipment is necessary for the planned field activity. I will provide the latter items as we come to them. You should plan to take at least a notebook and pen or pencil, hat, water, and sunglasses. It is not absolutely necessary to have a field bag, but it is often useful.

Stenaspis verticalis (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae), a large and colorful long-horned beetle of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  The female (on the right) is feeding at a site defended by the male (on the left) who is copulating with the female.  This type of mating system is called resource defense polygyny. This photograph was taken in July 1987, northeast of Phoenix, AZ.