50 Examples of Behavioral Ecology in Real Life

examples of behavioral ecology in real life

Behavioral ecology examines how behaviors of individuals are adapted to their environment, usually in the context of maximizing their reproductive success. Drawing from both ecology and evolutionary biology, it decodes actions in terms of their survival value. For instance, male bowerbirds build ornate structures to attract females, signaling their fitness. Emperor penguins huddle for warmth during harsh Antarctic winters, prioritizing their offspring’s survival. Meerkats take turns playing sentinel, safeguarding the group at personal foraging expense. Honeybees communicate food locations through complex dances. From mating strategies to group dynamics, behavioral ecology provides profound insights into the diverse actions of organisms in response to ecological challenges.

What is Behavioral Ecology?

Behavioral ecology, also known as ethoecology, is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. In other words, it investigates how individuals’ behaviors can be understood in terms of the survival and reproductive benefits those behaviors may offer. The main principle of behavioral ecology is that animal behaviors are subject to the same evolutionary pressures as physical traits and, thus, can be understood in terms of natural selection.

Competing for Resources

Competing for resources is a fundamental concept in ecology and evolutionary biology. Resources, in this context, can be broadly defined as any substance or factor required by an organism for survival, growth, and reproduction. Commonly contested resources include food, water, mates, light, space, and shelter. When the availability of a resource is limited relative to demand, competition intensifies.

There are two main types of competition:

1. Intraspecific Competition

This is competition among members of the same species. For example, two deer might compete for food in a meadow, or two male birds of the same species might compete for the attention of a female. Intraspecific competition can lead to adaptations such as resource partitioning (where individuals use the resource at different times or in different ways to reduce competition) and can influence factors such as an organism’s life history strategies.

2. Interspecific Competition

This is competition between members of different species. It occurs when two species have overlapping niches and compete for the same limited resource. This kind of competition can lead to competitive exclusion (where one species completely outcompetes and eliminates the other from the ecosystem) or to niche differentiation (where competing species evolve to use different parts of the resource, thereby reducing direct competition).

Competing for resources

Potential Outcomes of Competition

1. Resource Partitioning

Over time, competing species may evolve to exploit different parts of a resource. For instance, two bird species living in the same habitat might specialize in eating seeds of different sizes to avoid competing directly.

2. Character Displacement

In areas where two species compete directly, they may evolve distinct traits to reduce competition. For instance, the size or shape of a beak might differ more between two bird species in regions where they coexist than in regions where they do not.

3. Competitive Exclusion Principle

This principle suggests that two species with identical niches cannot coexist indefinitely in the same habitat. One will always outcompete the other, leading to its local extinction.

4. Altered Behavior

To avoid competition, organisms might change their behavior. For example, nocturnal animals might become active during the day if the competition is too intense at night.

5. Population Dynamics

High competition can reduce the population size of competing organisms, especially if the resource they’re competing for is crucial for survival and reproduction.

Competition is just one of the many ecological interactions that shape the natural world. It plays a crucial role in guiding the evolution of species, shaping communities, and maintaining the balance of ecosystems.

Sexual Selection

Sexual selection is a concept within the broader framework of evolutionary biology, introduced by Charles Darwin as an explanation for traits that don’t seem to provide direct survival benefits. Instead, these traits evolve because they give an advantage in terms of attracting mates or competing for reproduction, even if they sometimes come with costs in terms of survival. Sexual selection can operate through two primary mechanisms:

1. Intersexual Selection

This involves mate choice, where members of one sex (typically females) select mates based on certain traits. Such preferences can lead to the evolution of exaggerated traits in the other sex. The classic example is the peacock’s tail; while it may make the male more vulnerable to predators, it’s a display that attracts peahens.

2. Intrasexual Selection

This involves competition between members of the same sex (usually males) for access to mates. Traits that evolve through this mechanism help an individual outcompete rivals. This might include physical traits, like the large antlers of male deer for combat, or behavioral traits, like the mating calls of frogs.

Sexual Selection

Concepts Related to Sexual Selection

  • Sexual Dimorphism

This refers to the differences in appearance between males and females of the same species. Such differences can range from size (as with many birds of prey where females are larger) to physical adornments (like the bright colors of some male birds compared to their more cryptically colored female counterparts).

  • Handicap Principle

Proposed by Amotz Zahavi, this theory suggests that costly traits (in terms of energy or increased risk) serve as a “handicap,” showcasing the individual’s ability to survive despite these costs. This makes the trait a reliable signal of fitness, thus making it attractive to potential mates.

  • Runaway Selection

Proposed by Ronald Fisher, this theory posits that an arbitrary female preference for a certain male trait can lead to a positive feedback loop. As females select for that trait, males with more exaggerated versions of the trait have more offspring. These offspring (both male and female) inherit both the trait and the preference for it, driving the trait to become even more exaggerated over generations.

  • Good Genes Hypothesis

This theory suggests that the traits females choose when selecting mates are indicators of the male’s overall genetic fitness. Thus, by choosing males with these traits, females ensure better genes for their offspring.

Sexual selection can sometimes lead to extreme traits that seem maladaptive from a survival standpoint. However, because these traits offer a reproductive advantage, they become prevalent within a population. This form of selection is a powerful force in evolution and is responsible for some of the most remarkable and diverse traits observed in the animal kingdom.

Sexual Conflict

Sexual conflict

Sexual conflict arises when the evolutionary interests of males and females diverge, leading to opposing evolutionary pressures between the sexes. In essence, what might be evolutionarily beneficial for one sex might not be for the other, and vice versa. This conflict can manifest at various levels and can drive a wide array of behaviors and adaptations.

There are two primary forms of sexual conflict:

  • Interlocus sexual conflict

This arises when the evolutionary interests of males and females differ over a shared trait, resulting in co-evolutionary “arms races.” A classic example is the male water strider’s behavior of tapping on the water’s surface to attract predators, coercing the female into copulating to stop the tapping. The female, in response, might evolve defenses or strategies to counteract this coercive behavior, and the male might subsequently evolve more effective coercion tactics.

  • Intralocus sexual conflict

This arises when a trait controlled by the same genes has different optimal values in males and females. For example, a gene that promotes a large body size might be advantageous for male competition but disadvantageous for female fecundity. Because the trait is influenced by the same set of genes in both sexes, selection can’t easily optimize it separately for each sex, leading to a conflict.

Concepts Related to Sexual Conflict

  • Sexually antagonistic coevolution

This refers to the ongoing, cyclical process where adaptations in one sex lead to counter-adaptations in the other, akin to an evolutionary arms race. Over time, these adaptations and counter-adaptations can become quite extreme.

  • Infliction of harm

In some species, males have evolved adaptations that can harm females during mating. For example, the bedbug has a sharp reproductive organ that pierces the female’s body wall to deliver sperm, a process termed traumatic insemination.

  • Reduced lifespan or fecundity

Sexual conflict can result in reduced lifespan or reproductive potential in one or both sexes. For instance, if males evolve to mate frequently with females, it might increase their reproductive success but decrease the female’s lifespan or her future reproductive potential.

  • Parental investment and care

Sexual conflict can also manifest in disagreements over parental care. In species where one sex invests significantly more in offspring care, there might be conflict over how much each sex should contribute.

Sexual conflict is a fundamental aspect of sexual selection, shaping the interactions between males and females in many species. Recognizing these conflicts helps researchers understand a wide array of behaviors, morphological traits, and reproductive strategies.

Parental Care and Family Conflicts

Parental care and family conflicts are fascinating subjects in behavioral ecology, focusing on how parents and offspring, or siblings, might have conflicting interests despite being genetically related. These conflicts arise due to differences in how each party can maximize its fitness or reproductive success.

Here are the primary aspects of parental care and family conflicts:

  • Parent-Offspring Conflict

Parent-Offspring Conflict

    • Theory: Robert Trivers introduced the concept of parent-offspring conflict. While a parent and its offspring share 50% of their genes, they don’t always have perfectly aligned evolutionary interests. An offspring may benefit from demanding more resources than the parent is willing or able to give since the offspring’s primary concern is its own survival and fitness. Parents, having multiple offspring (either current or future), aim to distribute resources in a way that maximizes the overall reproductive success across all offspring.
    • Examples: A baby bird might beg loudly for food, even when it’s not extremely hungry, to receive a larger share of the parent’s resources. However, feeding this particularly demanding chick might come at the expense of its siblings.
  • Sibling Rivalry (Sib-Sib Conflict)

Sibling Rivalry (Sib-Sib Conflict)

    • Theory: Siblings compete for the same limited resources provided by parents. While they share approximately 50% of their genes with full siblings, their evolutionary interests are not always aligned, leading to conflict.
    • Examples: In some bird species, the first-born chick might push its younger siblings out of the nest to monopolize parental care. In mammals, siblings might fight for access to their mother’s teats.
  • Conflict over Extended Parental Care

Conflict over Extended Parental Care

    • Theory: In some species, young adults might remain with parents for extended periods, sometimes to learn skills or exploit resources before setting off on their own. However, this can cause conflict if these maturing offspring continue to demand resources or if their presence interferes with the parents’ ability to produce new offspring.
    • Examples: In many primates, young adults remain in their natal group for extended periods, and conflicts can arise as they start to challenge established hierarchies or compete for resources.
  • Parental Favoritism

Parental Favoritism

    • Theory: In situations where not all offspring have an equal chance of survival or reproductive success, parents might show favoritism, directing more resources or protection to certain offspring.
    • Examples: In species where offspring vary greatly in size or health, parents might prioritize the more robust or healthier offspring, potentially maximizing their return on investment.
  • Brood Parasitism

Brood Parasitism

    • Theory: This is a unique form of parent-offspring conflict found in some species where one organism (the parasite) tricks another (the host) into raising its offspring.
    • Examples: Cuckoos are infamous brood parasites. A female cuckoo lays her egg in the nest of another bird species. The cuckoo chick often hatches first and might push out the host’s eggs or chicks, ensuring it receives all the parental care.

These conflicts, while appearing detrimental, are part of the complex dynamics of family interactions in the animal kingdom. They have driven the evolution of various behavioral and physiological strategies and counter-strategies in both parents and offspring.

Mating Systems

Mating systems describe the patterns of mate-finding, mating, and parental care in animals. They have evolved in response to ecological conditions and are driven by factors like resource distribution, habitat type, predation risks, and the costs and benefits of parental care. Here’s an overview of some of the most common mating systems:

  • Monogamy


    • Description: One male pairs with one female. Both usually participate in raising offspring.
    • Examples: Many bird species, like albatrosses or swans, are monogamous, at least for a breeding season. Some mammals, like gibbons, are also monogamous.
    • Reasons for Evolution: Monogamy can evolve in areas where resources are scattered, and it’s beneficial for both parents to collaborate in offspring rearing.
  • Polygyny


    • Description: One male mates with multiple females but each female mates with only one male.
    • Examples: Mammals like lions, elk, and many ungulate species display polygyny. The males typically defend territories or resources that attract females.
    • Reasons for Evolution: Polygyny often evolves in areas with patchy resources, where a dominant male can control a resource and thereby attract multiple females.
  • Polyandry


    • Description: One female mates with multiple males, but each male mates with only one female.
    • Examples: The jacana bird and some species of frogs are polyandrous. In these cases, males often take up the primary role in parental care.
    • Reasons for Evolution: Polyandry can evolve when there’s a high variance in male quality or in situations where additional male effort in parental care can significantly increase offspring survival.
  • Promiscuity (Polygynandry)


    • Description: Both males and females have multiple mating partners.
    • Examples: Many primates, like bonobos and some species of birds, engage in promiscuous mating behaviors.
    • Reasons for Evolution: Promiscuity can evolve in situations where there’s a high risk of infertility, predation, or uncertainty in paternity. Mating with multiple partners can ensure higher genetic diversity among offspring.
  • Lekking


    • Description: Males gather in a specific area (a lek) and display for visiting females. The females then choose a mate based on these displays. While it’s a form of polygyny, males don’t provide any resources other than genes.
    • Examples: Some bird species like the sage grouse and mammals like the Ugandan kob participate in lekking.
    • Reasons for Evolution: Leks typically evolve in areas where resources are uniformly distributed, and females can’t be easily guarded or controlled by males. It’s more about males showcasing their genetic fitness.
  • Resource Defense Polygyny

Resource Defense Polygyny

    • Description: Males control resources that females need, and females mate with males that have the best resources.
    • Examples: In the case of some antelope species, a male might defend a prime feeding area, attracting females.
    • Reasons for Evolution: When resources are vital for female reproduction (like food or nesting sites) and can be monopolized by males, this system can evolve.

These mating systems represent broad categories, and there’s a lot of variation within them. Also, some species might show different mating systems under different ecological conditions or stages of their life. The evolution of these systems is driven by a combination of ecological, evolutionary, and social factors, and they play a significant role in shaping the behaviors and life histories of species.

Social Behaviors

Social Behaviors

Social behaviors encompass interactions between members of the same species. These behaviors have evolved because they increase the fitness of individuals involved, either directly or indirectly. The study of social behaviors provides insights into how animals communicate, cooperate, compete, and even deceive each other. Here’s an overview of various social behaviors observed in the animal kingdom:

  • Communication

      • Description: Animals transmit information to one another using various signals, which can be auditory, visual, tactile, or chemical.
      • Examples: Birdsong, wolf howls, firefly flashes, and pheromone trails in ants.
  • Cooperation

      • Description: Animals work together to achieve a common goal.
      • Examples: Lionesses hunting in a group, bees collaborating in hive construction, or birds in a flock mobbing a predator.
  • Altruism

      • Description: An individual behaves in a way that benefits another individual at a cost to themselves.
      • Examples: A meerkat standing guard and alerting the group of approaching predators, even though it exposes itself to danger.
  • Reciprocal Altruism

      • Description: An individual helps another with the expectation that the favor will be returned in the future.
      • Examples: Vampire bats sharing blood meals with kin and non-kin, expecting reciprocation on nights they don’t feed.
  • Kin Selection

      • Description: Favoring the reproductive success of one’s relatives, even at a cost to one’s own survival or reproduction.
      • Examples: Worker bees sacrificing reproduction to help raise their sisters.
  • Dominance Hierarchies

      • Description: Ranking of individuals based on social interactions, often related to access to resources.
      • Examples: Alpha wolves in a pack, or dominant baboons in a troop.
  • Territoriality

      • Description: Defending a particular area against intruders, especially of the same species.
      • Examples: Robins singing to mark and defend their breeding territory.
  • Mating Systems and Rituals

      • Description: Behaviors associated with acquiring and bonding with mates.
      • Examples: Courtship dances in birds of paradise, or deer males fighting for access to females.
  • Parental Care

      • Description: Efforts by parents to increase the survival of their offspring.
      • Examples: Penguins incubating eggs, or mammalian mothers nursing their young.
  • Agonistic Behaviors

      • Description: Aggressive or submissive behaviors related to conflict.
      • Examples: Ritualized displays in competing stags, or submission postures in wolves.
  • Eusociality

      • Description: The highest level of organization in animal social structures, where species have cooperative brood care, overlapping generations, and specialized reproductive and non-reproductive groups.
      • Examples: Ants, bees, wasps, and some species of termites and shrimp.
  • Flocking, Schooling, and Herding

      • Description: Group behaviors typically for protection, efficient foraging, or effective locomotion.
      • Examples: Birds flying in a V-formation, fish schooling, or wildebeests migrating in herds.

Many of these behaviors have evolved in response to environmental challenges and pressures, such as predation, resource scarcity, or the need for efficient reproduction. They highlight the intricate and varied ways animals have adapted to live and thrive in complex social environments.

Altruism and Conflict in Social Insects

Social insects, which include ants, bees, wasps, and termites, provide some of the most compelling examples of both altruism and conflict in the animal kingdom. Their complex societies are structured around a division of labor among different castes (e.g., workers, soldiers, queens, and males) and exhibit remarkable levels of cooperation. However, these societies are not without internal conflicts. Let’s explore both these aspects in detail:

Altruism in Social Insects

Altruism in Social Insects

  • Eusociality

Many social insects exhibit eusociality, characterized by:

    • Cooperative brood care (where adults care for offspring that are not their own).
    • Overlapping generations within colonies (allowing offspring to assist parents).
    • A division of labor, with non-reproductive individuals (like worker bees) supporting the reproduction of others.
  • Sterile Workers

In many species of ants, bees, and wasps, worker individuals often do not reproduce, dedicating their lives to assisting the colony, finding food, caring for the young, and protecting the nest.

  • Kin Selection

One major theory explaining such altruistic behavior is kin selection. Since many social insect colonies are founded by a single queen who mates only once or a few times, the relatedness among colony members is high. Thus, even though individual workers may not reproduce, they can still pass on their genes indirectly by helping closely related siblings reproduce.

Conflict in Social Insects

  • Queen vs. Worker Reproduction

While workers in many species are often sterile, in some species, they retain the ability to reproduce. However, the dominant queen and other workers usually suppress worker reproduction. When the dominant queen dies or is absent, workers may compete to lay eggs.

  • Worker Policing

In species like honeybees, workers can lay unfertilized eggs that develop into males. However, other workers often “police” the colony by identifying and destroying worker-laid eggs, prioritizing the queen’s reproductive success.

  • Multiple Mating and Multiple Queens

In colonies where queens mate with multiple males or where there are multiple queens, the relatedness among workers may vary. This can lead to conflicts, with some workers favoring their full siblings over half-siblings for reproduction.

  • Sex Allocation Conflicts

Queens and workers might have different preferences over the sex ratio of the next generation. For example, because of their unique genetic system (haplodiploidy), female hymenopterans (ants, bees, and wasps) are more closely related to their sisters than to their brothers. As a result, workers may prefer a more female-biased sex ratio, while the queen, who is equally related to sons and daughters, might favor an equal sex ratio.

  • Reproductive Skew and Conflict

In some species, not all individuals have an equal chance at reproduction. Workers or subordinates might fight or employ strategies to improve their reproductive share, leading to internal colony conflicts.

  • Colony Fission

In species that practice colony fission (splitting of a colony), there can be conflict over which individuals stay with the old colony and which ones leave with the new queen to establish a new colony.

Both the cooperation and conflict observed in social insects can be understood from the lens of inclusive fitness, which considers not just an individual’s personal reproductive success, but also the success of its relatives. The delicate balance between altruism and conflict in these societies has been shaped by millions of years of evolutionary pressures and provides rich material for study in behavioral ecology.

Examples of Behavioral Ecology in Real Life

  • Optimal Foraging Theory

    • Crows and tools

Crows are known to use twigs and other objects to extract insects from holes. This behavior demonstrates how animals evolve to use tools to maximize their energy gain while foraging.

    • Sea otters using rocks

Sea otters use rocks to break open hard-shelled prey, like sea urchins or clams, demonstrating a foraging behavior that maximizes energy intake.

  • Mating Systems and Strategies

    • Bowerbirds

Male bowerbirds build intricate structures called bowers to attract females. The quality and decoration of the bower indicate the male’s fitness and genetic quality.

    • Polygyny in Red Deer

In some populations, a single male (stag) can control access to multiple females by defending a territory or through direct control.

  • Parental Care

    • Penguin huddles

Emperor penguins in Antarctica huddle together to conserve warmth and protect their eggs during the harsh winter. This behavior maximizes the survival rate of offspring.

    • Mouthbrooding in fish

Some fish species, like certain cichlids, will carry their young in their mouths to protect them from predators.

  • Predator-Prey Interactions

    • Moths and bats

Some species of moths have evolved to detect the echolocation calls of bats and will perform evasive maneuvers or produce their own high-pitched sounds to deter the bats.

    • Camouflage

Many animals, like stick insects or leaf-tailed geckos, have evolved colors and patterns that help them blend into their environment to evade predators.

  • Altruistic Behaviors

    • Honeybee stinging

When a honeybee stings, it typically dies. However, by stinging, it releases pheromones that warn the colony of danger, benefiting the collective at the expense of the individual.

    • Meerkat sentinels

In meerkat groups, one individual will often act as a lookout for predators while the rest forage. This sentinel behavior reduces the individual’s foraging time but increases the group’s overall survival.

  • Migration

    • Monarch butterflies

Every year, Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles from North America to Central Mexico to escape the cold winter. This behavior maximizes survival rates during harsh seasons.

  • Territoriality

    • Bird songs

Many birds use songs to establish and defend their territories. The complexity and length of the song can signal the health and vitality of the singer, deterring rivals.

  • Eusociality

    • Ant colonies

In many ant species, there is a division of labor where only one or a few females reproduce (queens) while the rest of the colony (workers, soldiers) helps in foraging, defense, and care of the young without reproducing themselves.

  • Habitat Selection

    • Pied flycatchers

These birds choose to nest in areas based on the availability of food. In areas where food is plentiful, they’ll opt for a higher density of nests.

  • Kin Selection

    • Alarm calls in ground squirrels

Certain ground squirrel species will emit a high-pitched alarm call upon spotting a predator, alerting others in the vicinity. While this attracts attention to the caller, it increases the survival chances of close relatives, thereby indirectly benefiting the caller’s genes.

  • Sexual Dimorphism and Display

    • Peafowls

The male peacock has an elaborate tail feather display which he showcases in courtship rituals. This tail is energetically costly to maintain and can be a hindrance in escaping predators, but it signals to the females the male’s health, strength, and genetic quality.

  • Brood Parasitism

    • Cuckoos

Many cuckoo species are brood parasites. Instead of raising their own young, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species. The cuckoo chick typically hatches first and evicts the host’s eggs or chicks from the nest, ensuring it gets all the parental care.

  • Group Living and Cooperation

    • Dolphin hunting strategies

Dolphins are known to herd fish into tight balls or drive them toward the shore to make them easier to catch. This cooperative hunting increases individual success rates.

  • Avoiding Inbreeding

    • Mammals’ dispersal

In many mammalian species, either the male or female offspring (sometimes both) will disperse from their natal group once they reach reproductive age. This reduces the chance of mating with close relatives.

  • Nocturnality

    • Small mammals in desert environments

To avoid the intense heat and predators active during the day, many small mammals in desert environments have evolved to be nocturnal. This behavioral adaptation ensures they can forage with reduced risk.

  • Mimicry

    • Butterflies

Some non-toxic butterflies have evolved to look very similar to toxic species. This visual mimicry deters potential predators that have learned to associate the appearance of the toxic species with unpleasant or harmful effects.

  • Learning and Problem Solving

    • Rats in mazes

Rats have been shown to efficiently navigate mazes and modify their behavior based on previous experiences, demonstrating their ability to learn and adapt to new environments.

  • Seasonal Behaviors

    • Hibernation in bears

Many bear species go into hibernation during the winter months when food is scarce. This behavior conserves energy when resources are limited.

  • Diet Specialization

    • Panda’s bamboo diet

Despite belonging to the order Carnivora, the giant panda’s diet is primarily bamboo. This dietary specialization has evolved in response to their habitat, though it also means they need to consume large quantities due to bamboo’s low nutritional content.

  • Satellite Males

    • Frogs and toads

In some species, smaller males, instead of directly competing with larger males for females, will wait nearby (acting as “satellites”). When a female approaches, these satellite males attempt to intercept and mate with her.

  • Cooperative Breeding

    • African wild dogs

In these packs, typically only the alpha pair breeds, while the rest of the pack helps raise the young, hunt for food, and defend territory.

  • Cleaner Mutualisms

    • Cleaner fish and hosts

Cleaner wrasses eat parasites off larger fish. The larger fish allow the wrasses to do this, getting a “cleaning” service, while the wrasse gets food.

  • Echolocation

    • Bats hunting insects

Many bat species emit high-pitched sounds and then listen to the echoes to locate and hunt flying insects.

  • Delayed Implantation

    • Mustelids

Species like badgers and otters can delay the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, ensuring that young are born during optimal conditions.

  • Play Behavior

    • Young mammals

Animals like puppies, kittens, and even young primates often engage in play, which, while seemingly frivolous, helps them practice vital skills for hunting, escaping predators, or social interaction.

  • Temperature-regulating Behaviors

    • Desert lizards

These lizards often shuttle between sun and shade or elevate their bodies off the hot sand to regulate their body temperature.

  • Dances and Communication

    • Honeybees

Worker bees perform “waggle dances” to communicate the direction and distance of flower patches to hive mates.

  • Cooperative Hunting

    • Lions

Female lions in a pride often coordinate and work together to bring down large prey.

  • Tool Use in Non-human Primates

    • Chimpanzees

They’ve been observed using sticks to extract termites from mounds or leaves to soak up drinking water.

  • Infanticide

    • Lions

When a new male takes over a pride, he often kills existing cubs. This seemingly brutal behavior ensures that the new male’s genes are passed on more quickly since females come into estrus sooner after their cubs die.

  • Mobbing Behavior

    • Small birds vs. predators

Sometimes, smaller birds like crows or robins will collectively harass a larger bird (like an owl or hawk) to drive it away from their nesting area.

  • Anti-predator Behavior

    • Hermit crabs

These crabs occupy abandoned shells, which provide protection against predators. They’ll even “shop” for new shells, examining them for size and fit before switching.

  • Tidal Behavior

    • Fiddler crabs

These crabs synchronize their activity with the tide, coming out to feed when the tide is low and retreating when it’s high to avoid aquatic predators.

  • Aggressive Mimicry

    • Anglerfish

The female anglerfish has a luminous lure hanging in front of her mouth, resembling a worm or smaller fish. When prey approaches, thinking it’s an easy meal, the anglerfish strikes.

  • Trophic Egg Laying

    • Some spiders

The mother spider will lay unfertilized eggs specifically as a food source for her young.

  • Naval Navigation

    • Sea turtles

After hatching, young sea turtles navigate their way to the ocean, and decades later, females return to the same beaches to lay their eggs.

  • Aestivation (Summer Dormancy)

    • Lungfish

In response to dry conditions, some species will burrow into the mud and enter a state of dormancy until conditions improve.

  • Commensal Relationships

    • Egrets and grazing mammals

Egrets are often seen standing next to or on top of large herbivores, waiting to snap up insects that are disturbed by the mammal’s movement.

  • Distractive Displays

    • Killdeer

These birds, when a predator nears their nest, will fake an injured wing and lead the predator away, and once at a safe distance, they fly off, diverting the threat from their eggs or chicks.

  • Social Learning

    • Dolphins

Dolphins have been observed learning from one another, such as using marine sponges to protect their rostrums (snouts) when foraging on the seafloor.

  • Anti-predator Building

    • Caddisfly larvae

These insects build protective cases around themselves using materials from their environment, like twigs, stones, or shells.

  • Geomagnetic Navigation

    • Migratory birds

Some birds use the Earth’s magnetic field as a guide during long migrations, enabling them to travel vast distances with incredible accuracy.

  • Moonlight Behavior

    • Corals

Some coral species synchronize their spawning events with the lunar cycle, ensuring maximum reproductive success.

  • Symbiotic Relationships

    • Clownfish and sea anemones

Clownfish live among the tentacles of anemones, getting protection from predators. In return, they provide food for the anemone and also protect it from its predators or parasites.

  • Thermoregulatory Behaviors

    • Vultures

Some vultures are known to urinate on their legs to cool off through evaporative cooling on hot days.

  • Social Hierarchies and Dominance

    • Wolves

Wolf packs operate on strict social hierarchies with alpha, beta, and omega individuals, dictating things like feeding order and reproductive rights.

  • Batesian Mimicry

    • Hoverflies

Many hoverflies resemble bees or wasps but don’t sting. This resemblance offers protection as potential predators avoid them, mistaking them for stinging insects.

  • Parental Sacrifice

    • Spider matriphagy

In some spider species, the mother allows her offspring to consume her, providing them with an initial food source.

  • Color Change for Communication

    • Chameleons

While they’re famous for blending in, chameleons often change color to communicate, especially during confrontations with rivals or when courting.

  • Ambush Predation

    • Mantis

The praying mantis remains motionless and camouflaged in its environment, striking swiftly when prey comes within reach.


Here’s a summary table of the examples of behavioral ecology mentioned:

Behavior Type Species/Example Brief Description
Mating Systems Bowerbirds Males build ornate structures to attract females.
Foraging Behavior Bluegill sunfish Choose prey based on size during growth stages.
Altruism Meerkats Individuals act as sentinels, watching for predators.
Parental Investment Emperor penguins Share incubation duties; huddle to keep warm.
Communication Honeybees Use “waggle dances” to convey direction and distance to food.
Habitat Selection Pied flycatchers Nest based on food availability.
Kin Selection Ground squirrels Emit alarm calls to warn relatives of predators.
Sexual Display Peafowls Males exhibit colorful tail feathers to attract females.
Brood Parasitism Cuckoos Lay eggs in nests of other birds.
Group Living Dolphins Cooperatively herd fish to enhance hunting success.
Nocturnality Desert mammals Active during the night to avoid heat and predators.
Mimicry Butterflies Non-toxic species resemble toxic ones to deter predators.
Seasonal Behaviors Bears Hibernate during winter months to conserve energy.
Tidal Behavior Fiddler crabs Synchronize activity with tides for feeding and protection.
Aggressive Mimicry Anglerfish Use a lure resembling prey to attract targets.
Social Learning Dolphins Learn behaviors, like using sponges as tools, from peers.
Symbiotic Relationships Clownfish & sea anemones Mutual protection and food provision.
Batesian Mimicry Hoverflies Resemble bees or wasps to avoid predation.
Ambush Predation Mantis Stay camouflaged and motionless, striking when prey is within reach.


Behavioral ecology unravels the intricate tapestry of actions and interactions that shape the natural world. Through examples ranging from complex mating displays to altruistic behaviors and from cunning predatory tactics to sophisticated communication methods, it becomes evident that organisms are not just passively molded by their environments but actively engage with them in dynamic ways. These behaviors, honed by eons of natural selection, represent nature’s solutions to the challenges of survival and reproduction. By studying them, we gain profound insights into the evolutionary pressures that have sculpted the myriad life forms on our planet, emphasizing the adaptability and ingenuity of life.


Add Comment