Back to Doodle of the Week Born Smart? Why Animals Do What They Do
Glossary and related terms of interest
Action pattern
A simple behaviour, set off by a stimulus, made up of a series of actions that follow each other automatically even if the stimulus is taken away.
Meat-eater (examples: cats, owls, sharks)
Conditioning or paired learning
Changing a behaviour by pairing it with a stimulus again and again. Usually the starting behaviour is fairly simple. For example, a dog drools when it's being fed. If the food is paired with a ringing bell enough times, pretty soon the dog learns to drool at the sound of the bell.
Dominance hierarchy or pecking order
The way some animal groups arrange themselves so that certain members get their way (dominate) over others. Usually rank is determined by fighting or threatening each other.
The gradual change in the looks and behaviour of living things over many generations. Evolution happens because of two things: variation and natural selection.
Animals that constantly search and rummage around for food (usually small prey or plants).
An organ that releases chemicals (called glandular secretions) either inside or outside the body. For example, humans have sweat glands and birds have oil glands on their skins; inside you have a pituitary gland that's part of your growth machinery.
Plant-eater. Examples: rabbits, antelopes, elephants.
Insect-eater. Examples: shrews, many bats.
Natural selection
The effect of variations that make some animals more likely to survive in their surroundings than others. They'll tend to have more babies than the others, making the new traits more common. A factor in evolution.
Everything (meat and plant)-eater. Example: dogs, bears, humans.
An animal that lives and feeds on or in another animal (called the host). Often the parasite is harmful to the host. Birds like cuckoos are called parasitic because they slip their eggs into other birds' nests, making the host birds do the dirty work of raising the chicks.
Animals that hunt other animals.
Animals that get hunted.
A simple response produced by a stimulus, like the small kick produced by the tap of a hammer below a kneecap. A reflex can be a defence: for example, the startle reflex, when the stimulus of an enemy's very close approach causes the animal to make a sudden move that surprises the attacker.
"Selfish" behaviour
When an animal does whatever it can to make sure that it survies and has babies, even at the expense of other animals in the group.
Social animals
Animals that live in groups and interact with others. Some examples are prairie dogs, most monkeys and apes, and ants. Animals that live alone, like tigers and bears, are called solitary animals.
A group of animals who can and do breed with each other in nature. Usually, different species can't mate or produce babies. A few different species, in captivity, can mate and have babies (for example, horses and donkeys can make mules; lions and tiger can make tiglons), but those animals (mules and tiglons) can't have young themselves.
Any change in an animal's surroundings (light, noise, touch, taste, temperature, etc. etc.) that causes it to respond (reflex, action pattern, emotion, comment – "ow!"). For some behaviours, the stimulus must always be there for the behaviour to continue. In others, like action patterns, it carries on whether the stimulus is still there or not.
The way in which all animals of a single species are slightly different from each other depending on the traits they've inherited from their parents. The basis of natural selection and a factor in evolution.
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