Study Guide

Animal Behavior Terms

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Animal Behavior Terms


An interaction between two individuals competing over resources.

Ambush predator

An animal that sneaks up on prey so it can capture them and eat them for dinner. Ambush predators do not chase prey for very long, if at all, but rely on the element of surprise.


An action an animal carries out in response to a stimulus or situation. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.


Disguise (often used in wars)


An animal that just relies on eating other animals for its nutrition. If you offer one a salad, even if it's drenched in Ranch dressing and bacon bits, it will be more interested in munching on you instead.

Classical conditioning

A type of learning in which an animal associates one stimulus with the occurrence of a second stimulus. Before the animal learns to associate them, the first stimulus produces no response in the animal but the second stimulus does. After conditioning, the animal learns that the first stimulus means the second stimulus is coming, and the first stimulus will provoke the animal’s response to the second stimulus.


The use of signals to transfer information between individuals. Cell phone signals are one type of communication, but auditory and visual are other common forms.


Active at dawn and dusk. The advantage to being active at those times of the day is that it is cooler than the middle of the day. The dim light makes prey less likely to be caught, but there is still enough light for herbivorous animals to locate food.


Active in the daytime. Most birds are diurnal—they get up with the sun and sleep during the night. This is opposite of nocturnal.


A complex social structure in which only certain groups reproduce, with other groups caring for offspring and helping find food.


Searching for and acquiring food. For most animals, this is slightly more involved than digging around in the back of the fridge.


An organism that only eats tissue from autotrophic organisms, like plants and algae. Some examples of herbivores include members of the bovine family, like cows, bison, antelope, and sheep; members of the deer family, like moose, reindeer, and elk; and many insects, like leaf beetles, lady bugs, and aphids.


Qualities a person has at birth; genetic

Intersexual selection

Mate selection where males and females are involved in selection. Usually one sex is choosy, and the other sex shows off.

Intrasexual selection

Mate selection where males compete with males (or females compete with females). The other sex is usually just a super awesome amazing prize.


A non-directional change in movement in response to a stimulus. This may be a change in speed in response to light


When animals pick up and leave to a new zip code. This is often done regularly, like Snowbirds in Miami Beach.


Only having one mate. The old ball and chain could be around for one mating season or for their entire life.


Death rate. Sorry to be grim, but death is part of life. Most animals act to minimize mortality if they can help it.


being active only at night (and usually inactive or sleeping during the day); often applied to animals and biology, but can also describe people who prefer to stay up nights and sleep days.


These animals will eat both plants and animals to get all of their nutritional requirements. They get their name from the Latin phrase "omni," which means "all." Despite the fancypants Latin origin, we're pretty sure they aren't eating shoelaces and sunglasses for their high protein content.

Operant conditioning

A type of learning in which an animal associates a reward or negative experience with one of its behaviors. Reading this whole Shmoop chapter and then getting an "A" on the test could be an example of operant conditioning.


Chemicals that are released by some animals, often as a part of a courtship ritual. Mmm, smells like someone is available.


Having more than one mate.

Sensory organs

The body parts used to take in signals from the environment: ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and things used to feel (fingers/paws/whiskers).

Sexual Selection

The evolutionary process in which individuals that have desirable sexual characteristics are more successful at attracting mates.


A stimulus passed from one animal to another. It could be vocal, visual, chemical, or physical.


Living and breeding in groups. Many birds, mammals, and insects are social. Reptiles are typically not social.


A thing or event that causes a reaction in an animal. Light, noise, and the Loch Ness monster are all examples of stimuli.


A jumping display that a prey animal uses to signal its fitness to a predator. Stotting is used by prey to show off their musculature. It also indicates how fast they can run, in hopes that predators will give up the chase before they start.


A taxis is a movement that is directed toward a stimulus. Contrast to kinesis, which is non-directional. Taxis is singular, FYI—it is pronounced similarly to "taxes." Got it? Good, because the plural actually is spelled taxes, and pronounced the same way.

Roots of Common Terms in Animal Behavior


G = Greek, L = Latin, F = French


agon = "contest" (G)


alteri huic = "to this other" (L)


camoufler = "to disguise" (F)

The word camouflage started being used in World War I when militaries began to dress in colors that allowed them to blend in.


circa = "around" and dies = "day" (L)


communicare = "to share" (L)


crepusculum = "twilight" (L)


diurnus= "daily", from dies = "day" (L)


in = "into" and nasci = "be born" (L)


kinein = "to move" (G)


migrat- = "moved or shifted" (L)


monos = "single" and gamos = "marriage" (G)


nocturnus = "of the night" (L)


pherein = "convey" (G) + horman = "set in motion" (G)


polugamos = "often marrying" (G)


signum = "mark, token" (L)


tassein = "arrange" (G)

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