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Animal Behaviour: why do they do that?

A lot of the time we think animals are funny or cute. But in reality that is just us projecting our human mindset onto them. The animals themselves are living out dramas as serious as anything we live through ourselves. For a rabbit coming out of its hole to forage for food, every day is Vietnam. Understanding why animals behave the way they do is a field of Behavioural Ecology brought to the fore in a course on edX, Introduction to Animal Behaviour.


Everything animals do is for a reason. Okay, maybe dolphins and otters play just for the fun of it, but we haven’t proved that, and their ‘cute’ behaviour might well have an underlying porpoise. Most of the time animal behaviour is geared towards the challenges of finding food, avoiding predators, choosing a mate, or rearing their offspring. Humans are the only species that does things for no reason, like playing Sudoku.


Introduction to Animal Behaviour is a six-week deep dive into these behaviours. It covers key concepts for studying animal behaviour including evolution, natural selection, anthropomorphism, and the scientific method. Learning, cognition and development are approached by studying how animals adapt their behaviour to their environment and use their mental faculties to solve practical problems. Crows are amazing at solving puzzles, by the way.


Animal communication explores how animals send signals to each other and how these signals are influenced by environmental and social context. We all know that chimps have quite a wide vocabulary of calls – but what are they saying?


Further subjects include mating systems, parental care and living in groups, which covers social behaviours including why some animals forego reproduction to help others breed. The instructors are a Professor and two Doctors of Behavioural Biology from Wageningen University, whose behaviour during the course is mostly impeccable.

Those who want to know more about why their dog behaves the way it does can try the IOA online course on Dog Behaviour and Training