Ethology Meaning

Ethology meaning refers to the scientific study of animal behaviour, with an emphasis on behaviour in natural environments and the idea of behaviour as an evolutionary adaptive attribute. Behaviourism also refers to the scientific and objective analysis of animal behaviour, with a focus on measured reactions to stimuli or trained behavioural responses within a laboratory environment, rather than on evolutionary adaptivity. Various naturalists have examined ethology meaning and various elements of animal behaviour across history. Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and American and German ornithologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, involving Oskar Heinroth (1871–1945), Charles O. Whitman, and Wallace Craig, laid the scientific foundations for ethology.

Ethology is a study that is quickly expanding. Numerous elements of animal communication, learning, culture, emotions, and sexuality which the scientific community believed it understood, have been re-examined and new findings have been made since the advent of the twenty-first century. New fields have emerged, including neuroethology.

Types of Ethology Studies: Sexual, Social, Shelter seeking, Communicative, Investigative, Maternal, Allelomimetic Eliminative, Feeding, and Maladaptive are the top ten Types of ethology studies.

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The Beginnings of Ethology- As ethology is a branch of biology, ethologists were specifically interested in the evolution of behaviour and how it may be explained in terms of natural selection. In some ways, Charles Darwin was the very first contemporary ethologist, influencing numerous ethologists with his 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. He continued his interest in behaviour through promoting his protégé George Romanes, who studied animal learning and intelligence using an anthropomorphic method called anecdotal cognitivism, which was not scientifically supported.

Growth of the Field- During the years leading up to World War II, ethology flourished in continental Europe thanks to the efforts of Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz. After the war, Tinbergen relocated to the University of Oxford, and ethology gained traction in the United Kingdom, thanks to the work of Robert Hinde, William Thorpe, and Patrick Bateson at the University of Cambridge's Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour. Ethology began to flourish in North America during this time period as well.

Social Ethology and Latest Developments- In 1972, the English ethologist John H. Crook distinguished comparative ethology from social ethology, arguing that the whole of the previous ethology had been comparative ethology (investigating animals as individuals), while ethologists would have to focus on the behaviour of social groups of animals and the social structure under them in the coming years. Since the publication of E. O. Wilson's book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975, the investigation of behaviour has become much more focused on social elements. This has also been fueled by Wilson's, Robert Trivers', and W. D. Hamilton's stronger, but far more nuanced Darwinism. Ethology has been transformed as a result of the linked development of behavioural ecology.


Associative Learning- In animal behaviour, associative learning refers to any learning process wherein a new response is linked to specific stimuli. Russian biologist Ivan Pavlov was the first to study associative learning, observing that dogs trained to link food with the banging of a bell salivated when they heard the bell.

Habituation- Habituation is a basic type of learning that can be found in a wide range of animal species. It is the act of an animal ceasing to respond to stimuli. Often, the reaction is a natural reaction. In essence, the animal learns to ignore unimportant inputs. Prairie dogs, for instance, make alarm sounds when predators arrive, driving the entire colony to scurry down burrows. Giving warning calls every time a human goes by is time and energy-consuming when prairie dog communities are placed close to the trails utilised by people. In this setting, acclimating to people is a key adaptation.

Imprinting- Imprinting allows juveniles to distinguish between members of their own species, which is important for reproductive success. This crucial sort of education takes place during a relatively short amount of time. Lorenz noticed that young geese and chickens instantly obeyed their mothers from about the very next day after hatching, and he found that this response may be imitated via an arbitrary stimulus if the eggs have been artificially incubated and the stimulus was displayed throughout a critical period that lasted several days after hatching.

Teaching- Teaching is a noble specialised element of learning wherein the "teacher" (demonstrator) alters their behaviour in order to maximise the likelihood that the "student" (observer) achieves the desired outcome of the behaviour. Killer whales, for instance, have been seen to beach themselves in order to obtain pinniped prey. Killer whale mothers educate their young how to grab pinnipeds by dragging them onto the beach and urging them to assault the prey. This is proof of teaching since the mother killer whale is changing her behaviour to assist her children to learn to catch prey.

Mating and the Battle for Dominance

Individual reproduction has been the most significant step in the proliferation of people or genes inside a species; as a result, there seem to be elaborate mating rituals that could be rather complicated, despite the fact that they are frequently thought of as fixed action patterns. Tinbergen's study of the stickleback's complicated mating ritual is recognised as a remarkable example.

Animals frequently battle for the freedom to reproduce and also social dominance in social life. The so-called pecking order in poultry is indeed a famous example of battling for social and sexual superiority. When a bunch of chickens live together for an extended period of time, they create a pecking order. One chicken controls the others in such groupings and can peck without becoming pecked. A second chicken, with the exception of the first, may peck everyone else, and so on. When contrasted to lower grade chickens, upper-level chickens can sometimes be differentiated by their healthier appearance. 

During the establishment of the pecking order, numerous and severe battles may occur; but, once identified, the pecking order has only been broken when new members join the group, at which point the pecking order must be re-established from the beginning.

Living in Groups

Humans, like many other animals, like to stay in groups. Their social environment is heavily influenced by the size of respective groups. Social interaction is most likely a sophisticated and effective survival strategy. It's comparable to a symbiosis between members of the same species: a community is made up of a group of members from the very same species who live under well-defined rules for task assignments, food management, and reciprocal dependence.

Benefits and Costs of Group Living- Reduced predation is one benefit of existing in a group. The dilution effect may minimise the risk of predator attacks for individual victims if the number of predator assaults remains constant despite an increase in the prey group size. Moreover, as per the selfish herd theory, the fitness advantage of group life differs considerably depending on an individual's position inside the group. 

According to the hypothesis, conspecifics at the centre of a group will be less vulnerable to predation, whereas those on the outskirts would be much more vulnerable. Furthermore, a predator who is perplexed by a large number of people may have a harder time identifying a single target. As a result, the zebra's stripes provide not only concealment in a tall grassy environment, but also the ability to blend in with a herd of other zebras.  A prey may deliberately minimise their predation risk in groups by employing better effective defence techniques or by detecting predators early through heightened alertness.

Group Size- Social animals should, in theory, possess optimal group sizes which maximise the benefits of group existence while minimising the costs. Most natural groups, on the other hand, are persistent at slightly greater than ideal sizes. As it is often favourable for a member to enter an optimally-sized group, even if it reduces the benefit for all participants, groups might keep growing in size until it is far more profitable to stay alone than to enter an excessively large group.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Who is the Father of Ethology?

Ans. Konrad Lorenz is the father of ethology. Konrad Zacharias Lorenz was an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist who lived from November 7, 1903, to February 27, 1989. Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisc along with the father of ethology received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.

2. What is the Goal of Ethology?

Ans. The purpose of ethology is to investigate behaviour using methods from the natural sciences. However, defining the idea of behaviour is not as straightforward as it may appear, and the literature's use of the word is inconsistent.