Posts tagged behaviour.

Can you please make a post about coot parenting strategies? That would be the best thing ever.

Asked by demisemiquaver


This is a coot.


These are baby coots.


I… I sure hope nothing bad is going to happen to those little guys.

(Spoiler alert: if you agree with the above statement, you may not want to click the readmore.)

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04.24.14 ♥ 1208









Uromastyx likes her belly rubbed

this is a fucking lizard getting her belly rubbed if you don’t think that’s the cutest shit then get out of my blog


This animal is not happy! ): This is a panic/defence mechanism, this is probably really freaking the poor thing out.  i’ve seen multiple reblogs of this post informing people of that, so I thought I’d let you know.

This is a Uromastyx, their defence mechanism is to INFLATE their bodies and move them as if they were “belly dancing” as they release air through their mouths letting a “haaaaaaaaaaaah” kind of sound until you leave them alone. If you don’t they’ll HIT you with their spiky tail.

This Uromastyx is exposing its belly on their own will, what it’s doing first is smell the hand to see if it’s someone they know. Since it is (remember the belly is the most vulnerable part of their body) and knows the person won’t harm them, it exposes the belly for the rubs.

And I talk from experience, I have an Uromastyx Acanthinura. It took me forever to get mine to trust me enough to allow me pet him and let me pick him up (and then teach him that my mum (he used to react aggressively towards her presence just by smelling her hand) that my mum was to be trusted).

TDLR; the Uromastyx in the gif trusts their owner and allows the owner to rub the belly, that isn’t how Uromastyx defend themselves

I get so happy when people with actual facts, knowledge, and experience explain things to those who do more talking than understanding.

I’m so fucking elated that this lizard IS actually enjoying tummy tickles. I’ve gone my entire life being sad because people kept saying this was a discomfort display. I’m so happy that the lizard is happy. I’m so happy.

The only animals who expose their softest, most vulnerable parts as a threat display/defense mechanism while also basically immobilizing themselves are usually poisonous animals or close mimics of poisonous animals, and Uromastyx is neither.

Usually such a display is also colorful.

But yeah how fucking cute is it that a little lizard will sniff your hand to make sure you’re the right giant

The idea that reptiles are dumb and emotionless is far too ingrained even among hobbyists and scientific professionals.

The only animals who expose their softest, most vulnerable parts as a threat display/defense mechanism while also basically immobilizing themselves are usually poisonous animals or close mimics of poisonous animals, and Uromastyx is neither.” - not true! Uromastyx flop over to show an interested male that they are not interested in breeding. Possibly originated from pretending to be dead, which a lot of non-poisonous and non-mimicing species do (ie. opossums, european gras snake). 

Reptiles are not dumb and emotionless but their behaviour is different to mammals. What might be a sign of enjoyment or pleasure in one species can be a sign of distress or appeasement in another (ie. smiling in humans and smiling in primates). 

04.24.14 ♥ 458050




Mental Disorders in Animals

The above is an image of a captive African gray parrot that suffers from excessive feather-plucking, or pterotillomania. People who work with captive parrots or own parrots as pets have probably at least heard of this disorder, or even observed it firsthand. The parrot may have an excellent diet and be in good physical condition, yet it will continue to pluck and pluck at its own feathers, shaving itself bald in places.

If the cause is not a disorder of the body, then, can we say that this is a symptom of a disorder of the mind?

That brings up another question, though: how can we possibly know what is happening in an animal’s head? How can we separate an animal’s behavior into that of bodily needs and that of mental needs? People like to point out all the time that you can’t sit a dog on a couch and ask him what his childhood was like; we don’t even know if a dog’s memory of his childhood exists in any form that a human would recognize. While I think most people would agree that animals have minds, they function- by necessity and evolution- in ways ours do not.

I think this has to be the focal point of the following discussion: animal minds and human minds are different. Am I saying animal minds are inferior? Certainly not. But I’d like to point out that a lot of the research on mental disorders in animals focuses on finding parallels with human mental disorders. Yet the underlying reasons for disordered behavior in animals may be because they have mental needs that humans do not. For example, a popular theory behind why parrots develop pterotillomania is because they are not given ample opportunities to perform normative food-foraging behaviors.

So what forms of mental disorders are present in animals, and what are biologists, psychologists, veterinarians, and pet owners doing to better understand them?

Below the cut I’ll be discussing several things that people may find distressing/triggering: animal suffering, mental illness (including references or descriptions of the most commonly diagnosed human mental disorders), and animal research. It’s an upsetting topic, which is why I’m writing about it much more formally than I normally do, but I think it’s both interesting and important.

Note: This post is also extremely long.

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This is an extremely important post and I’d like to add a bit more information in the cognitive ethology side along with the discourse around this matter. As Koryos has mentioned, there is no doubt on whether or not animals suffer from mental illnesses — at least to vets, many animal researchers/caretakers, and some pet owners. 

An Introduction to Animal Cognition Studies

Psychology wasn’t the first discipline interested in studying how humans (and animals) perceived and understood the world. Locke’s Theory of Mind/Knowledge [1] was one of the foremost and most influential attempts to approach this. Simply put, Locke believed that the mind’s job is primarily to associate experiences. These associations are enhanced by repetition and relation (closeness to the individual). From this, behavior is shaped through association. Everything the individual thinks/does is intertwined with their experiences and their mind is thus a blank slate waiting to be filled with experiences. Kant ultimately disagrees and starts to set the stage for Darwin’s perspective. The mind is not a blank slate willing to accept any and all things, but rather more willing to accept certain experiences than others. Simply stated, Kant [2] believed that there are perceptions and innate behaviors that exist a priori to having experience the events. These innate behaviors and perceptions help to shape experiences and put them into particular schemas that better fit their worldview. In order to understand our own experiences and our perceptions, we also have to understand the innate working mechanisms of the mind itself. 

In comes Darwin who wanted to incorporate both Locke’s and Kant’s philosophies, after all, whatever mechanisms that have shaped behavior and physiology (cough, evolution), must surely also act on the mind and not exclusive from it. Instinct, behaviors, and thoughts are all products of the mind — but they can be studied like any biological trait. In Darwin’s perspective, the mind is very species-specific. Species take in information from their surroundings, synthesize it, and generates a world view that not only fits their current realities, but also fits the path their evolutionary history has taken them [3]. 

Now we enter the beginnings of cognitive psychology. I will refrain from stating every important theory and psychologist. Instead, I will jump in with Skinner and Behaviorism. As many of you are well aware, Skinner’s influence in psychology is monumental. He saw a black box in cognitive psychology which includes questions such as what does the animal think? and do they see/experience the same thing? and do they know what they how and how do they know it? All similar questions were immediately thrown into this black box and decided that if it cannot be answered, then it will be tucked safely away until later. Instead, Skinner focused closely on operant conditioning [4] — which can be elegantly experimented and explained. Skinner’s primary experiments suggest that behavior is based on stimuli and responses. Thoughts and emotions played no role in behavior, because to Skinner, these behaviors are nonexistent. This perspective is vastly different from Darwin’s metaphysics. 

For the most of the 20th century, behaviorism dominated the field of psychology in both human and nonhuman research. Luckily, behaviorism was challenged multiple times by countless psychologists. One of the more prominent of the challenges was by Tolman [5] who argue that animals acquire knowledge through their experiences. Many more cognitive psychologists joined in as they started noticing that their subjects behaved in ways that simply could not be explained through stimulus response. How could Fixed Action Patterns make sense in behaviorist psychology? How could innate behaviors exist? 

If behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are based within the brain, why don’t we study the brain? If they are all rooted within the brain, couldn’t we study it just like any other biological traits? 

Studying animal experiences and perception was of course met with much pull. In attempts to try not to be anthropomorphic, scientists instead started engaging in anthropodenial [6]. When studying behavior, students are constantly taught Morgan’s Canon [7], otherwise known as the Law of Parsimony. This canon is so important that it needs to be stated:

"In no case may we interpret an action as a the outcome of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one that stands lower in the psychological scale (Morgan, 1984:53)."

This law simply states that if there’s an simpler explanation that does the same job, go with that and never assume more cognitive complexity than you need to. This simple canon is a good canon that has lead to decreases in anthropomorphism in scientific literature and have greatly advanced cognitive ethology. However, as more thorough animal research continued, animal researchers started questioning the applicability of this canon. 

The more animal behavior is studied, the more researchers realized that these behaviors are not purely reward/punishment based. In order to not to anthropomorphize their research, scientists were finding increasingly difficult to explain these characteristics. How would you explain instances of play? Social learning? Conformity? And friendships? These experiences are sounding similar and similar to our own human experiences, yet people continue to distance human experiences from animal experiences — either as an extreme avoidance towards anthropomorphism or to secure our superiority in the hierarchy. 

The primary problem is, nonhuman animals are not machines. They experience many of the same emotions that we experience. Their life histories are not so different from ours to have garnered completely different emotional processing and perceptions. If we were descended from machines, are we also machines? How did we cross the threshold from machines to nonmachines? More and more, this perspective is falling apart and the dividing wall is weakly being put together with duct tape and denial. 

When you try to abide strictly by Morgan’s Canon, you still start to miss out on important  behaviors. You need not even approach qualia to understand that every species has their own world perspective (umwelt); however, that does not mean that nonhuman animals cannot experience the experiences of us humans. That is unfortunately something that many researchers are still grappling with. 

Mental Illnesses in Animals

In studying mental illnesses in animals, this becomes more controversial. Animals are used as research models. Because many mental illnesses have a biological etiology, these studies not only gives us a glimpse on how mental illnesses affect humans and animals, but also a glimpse in the mind of animals. Through these studies on depression, anxiety, paranoia, etc, scientists now have more concrete proof that animals experience the same (or at least similar) emotions as humans. As of such, we also have started to realize that certain illnesses (such as schizophrenia) may actually be specific only to humans since adequate animal models of schizophrenia has yet to be found [8]. 

Animal caretakers and vets were on the forefront of accepting this realization, probably because it started being difficult to excuse certain behaviors as being independent of higher cognitive functioning. In many captive settings psychiatric drugs are prescribed to soothe anxiety and other mental conditions. Early captive settings were squalid and rather sad. During this time though, people still greatly believed that animals weren’t capable of the same spectrum of emotions and quality of life as humans. Early cognitive ethology studies of using animals in these squalid conditions have since been reviewed and questioned. It has since been shown time and time again that animals (and humans) need enrichment and enriching activities in their daily lives. The mind isn’t a blank slate that will be fine if left unattended as Locke originally suggested, but rather a sensitive organ that constantly takes in information, synthesizes it, and integrates it into their worldview. 

Luckily, there is more awareness in the scientific and caretaking communities. Current studies abide by strict rules and regulations overruling everything from animal husbandry to experimentation. 


[1] John Locke. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: Book Two; Ideas.  
[2] Gary Banham. (2006) Kant and Leibniz on Living Force. 
[3] Robert Richards. Darwin’s Metaphysics of Mind. 
[4] BF Skinner. (1938) The Behavior of Organisms: and experimental analysis.
[5] Edward Tolman. (1932) Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men.
[6] Frans de Waal. (1997) Are we in anthropodenial?
[7] CL Morgan. Introduction to comparative psychology
[8] Braff and Geyer. (1990) Sensorimotor Gating and Schizophrenia: Human and Animal Model Studies. 

I will be working at a parrot rescue this summer. This is so helpful. Thank you!





I love when cats decide they love something.

That is a very patient bunny.

 Or very uncomfortable. I’m sick of “cute” videos of a predator not harming but really stressing out prey species & because people are less familiar with their body language they just read it as “well they’re not thrashing or squealing, they must be okay!”. When rabbits are scared or unsure they will hunch up, try to stay as still as possible & allow tuck their head onto the ground trying to be as unnoticeable as possible until the danger passes. He is letting himself be pushed around because he is hoping the cat will grow bored of him & leave him alone so he can go somewhere more comfortable, this is typical nervous rabbit behaviour when they are too close to the source of threat to “make an escape”. My nervous rescue Belgian Hare does this every time my dad tries to pet him because he unintentionally comes across as loud & threatening, even though he would never hurt Juniper. 

Please, learn how to make all your pets feel safe & happy & don’t force them together for the sake of “happy families”. Predators & prey species can cohabit spaces in some cases but make sure your prey species feel safe & be aware of the behaviours they wold show if they feel threatened so you can separate them if you need to. 

I’ve gotta disagree with frothingmagpies… this bunny looks pretty comfortable with this cat.

(PSA: I need to say- I honestly do not think cats and rabbits should EVER be able to interact freely… and at all honestly without having hands on the cat to make sure they keep their paws/teeth to themselves… because cats have such dirty mouths/claws, if there’s one bite/scratch, your rabbit could die very quickly from an infection.. So yeah- anyone reading this, PLEASE! never house rabbits/cats together and please never let them interact closely for your rabbit’s safety! My rabbits are in a room that my cats have no unsupervised access to and are still separated by a pen.)

But yeah, I have three rabbits myself and when they’re scared you KNOW… this rabbit is acting like my rabbit, Sabriel (who is also a Dutch) when he’s getting pets, he freezes (there’s a difference between “omg she’s petting me! yay!” freezing and “oh god I’m gunna die! ahh!” freezing!) and presents his head and once you start petting him, his head sinks down because he wants do be groomed. He loves it. Also, take notice of this rabbit’s nose- the way it flicks up and down. If this rabbit was terrified, that nose would be wide open, breathing as fast as possible and not flicking up like the “signature bunny nose.” 

I mainly bring this up because the fourth gif, the way the rabbit keeps his head towards the cat’s face- when my rabbits are uncomfortable/nervous, if they’re face gets touched, they flinch. Most rabbits do- and I say this as someone who’s worked with hundreds of rabbits (I socialized at a rabbit sanctuary) with personalities ranging from incredibly fearful to heaps chill, and everything in between. Rabbits don’t necessarily allow themselves to remain in uncomfortable situations.

I went and found the actual video, and right after the second gif, the rabbit’s eyes start to close (which a rabbit would only do when relaxed!) while snuggling with the cat. And right before the fourth gif in the video, the rabbit pushes their head down and out- asking the cat to groom them. The cat DOES get a little feisty with the rabbit towards the end of the video (like i said, I don’t agree with cats/rabbits interacting like this), but the rabbit FREELY hops away, and then hops back around towards the cat again.

The rabbits is obviously not fearful of the cat and quite likes them.

Reblogging for the new info on the rabbits behaviour

It’s good to know that in this particular case both animals were not stressed :)

04.21.14 ♥ 310581
04.20.14 ♥ 919


We already know that Honey Badgers are awesome, but did you know that in addition to being skilled diggers, fearless hunters and not caring about anything, they’re also incredibly intelligent and cunning? Well now you do. Meet Stoffel the Honey Badger Houdini.

Stoffel lives at the Moholoholo wildlife rehabilitation center near Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. He’s a permanent resident of the center, which rescued him from a negligent owner trying to keep him as a pet, which is why he cannot be released into the wild. But it turns out that keeping Stoffel isn’t simply a matter of giving him a nice place to live. No matter what sort of enclosed habitat the center provides, Stoffel finds ways to escape - sometimes ingenious ways - which reveal that he’s not just determined, he’s also amazingly thoughtful.

We don’t want to reveal any more than we already have, so watch this astonishing video to see exactly how Stoffel works his mustelid magic.

Video from Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem, part of the BBC series Natural World.

[via Twisted Sifter]

04.20.14 ♥ 333

Wolves have a basic aversion to fighting and will do much to avoid any aggressive encounters.

It has been observed that a socialized wolf had become frantically upset upon witnessing its first dog fight. The distressed wolf intervened and eventually broke up the fight by pulling the aggressor off by the tail.

David Mech and Luigi Boitani, “Wolves: Behavior, ecology, and conservation”, 2003 (via wolveswolves)

04.16.14 ♥ 9356







Dawn the Fox wags her tail

This keeps popping up on my dash, and every time I see it I get more and more frustrated. 

First of all, it is stupid as fuck to put your bare hand in a wild animal’s mouth. I don’t care how long it’s been with you, or whether it’s “domesticated” or not. It’s stupid, and you’re asking for broken bones and stitches, and I will not feel bad for you, because you deserved it. 

Second, that’s not playing. It’s appeasement behavior. It’s a submissive reaction intended to stop a more dominant animal from attacking. The squinted eyes, the “grin”, the vigorous tail wag, the way her legs are tucked against her body, the fact that her ears are pinned back against her head, the arched and curved body, and the exposure of her throat and belly are all pretty classic indications of fear. 

She’s terrified. And she’s a wild animal whose behavior cannot be extrapolated from the behavior of humans or domestic dogs.

The video comes from a wildlife sanctuary, where the fox lives because she is apparently non-releasable. That’s awesome. I’m all about protecting wildlife if they can’t survive on their own. But even if a wild animal has lived among humans for decades, they’re still wild, and need to be treated as such. 

I’m reblogging this from myself because this stupid video is back, and it makes me crazy.

This annoyed me when I thought it was from a owner of a “domestic” fox… but the fact that it’s from a wildlife sanctuary? Ugh. They should know better. This is infuriating. 

Dear Humans,
Please stop projecting behavioral signals from one species onto another. Each species (heck many times each individual) has specific behavioral cues for fear, affiliation, play, aggression, etc. Forgetting or ignoring species behavioral (and other) differences is how both humans and animals get hurt. 
Please and thank you,
Your (usually) friendly neighborhood Ethologist

I wouldn’t say this fox is terrified at all. This is very typical of how foxes greet each other in the wild, usually aimed towards a parent or partner. Same is true of pet foxes greeting their owners (who take the place of the parent.) Ears back, grimacing, rolling around etc. are used in friendly greetings among family members. The tail wagging, in particular, shows that this is a friendly/excited greeting. 

Here’s a video clip of a wild vixen greeting her mate (skip to 4:44): Notive how both foxes use exactly the same gestures as the fox above to greet each other! 

Yes it’s submissive behavior but it is NOT the behavior of a frightened/stressed fox. A truly frightened fox would flattened itself against the ground, open it’s mouth wide and made a distinctive spitting sound. Fox behavior is not the same as dog behavior. 

As someone who has worked with a fox on a daily basis and knows quite a bit about foxes, please don’t presume to speak about animals you clearly know nothing about.

A scared fox will run away, a scared fox will be hunched over or flattened to the ground, gekking, puffing their cheeks and growling. A scared fox will bite, hard. A scared fox absolutely will not be demonstrating these behaviors, a scared fox will be on their stomach snapping at you, but not before trying to get away. 

A happy fox on the other hand, will do a behavior called ‘mouthing’, where they will put your hand in their mouth and often squeal. They’ll be panting happily, rolling over on their back, wagging their tail, and letting you touch their stomach and neck and ears while they continue to mouth you or paw at you. A happy fox will flatten their ears and grimace and wiggle and squeak. The fox in the video is absolutely a very happy, relaxed fox.

Do not go around telling people that this is a scared, unhappy fox, because that helps contribute to the notion that rehabilitators and other people with foxes don’t know what they’re doing or are willfully doing something terrible for their own amusement. That in turn breeds hostility towards having foxes in captivity, rescued or not, that causes people to go extreme measures with the misguided belief that an animal is dangerous, in danger, unhappy or scared. People will let captive born and bred foxes out - I know at least two people who have had their foxes let loose, one of which their fox died by being hit by a car. 

Even ethologists and zoologists can be wrong. Foxes are not dogs or any other canine and thus don’t demonstrate the same behaviors. I’ve seen zoos classify white red foxes as arctic foxes and that can cause problems when species are incorrectly housed with the wrong species.

So please don’t claim to know about these animals and have people listening to you and perpetuating misinformation, which makes it harder for people who actually work with these animals to do their job.

04.08.14 ♥ 97462

There is considerable scientific literature which argues against the idea that most behavior issues are a result of dominance issues or a lack of “alpha” status of owners, instead suggesting that most aggression issues result from fear (self-defense) and anxiety-related issues.  It is equally clear from the scientific literature that confrontational methods like alpha-rolling, forced or dominance downs, and pinch collars increase the levels of a dog’s stress, anxiety, and fear; thus it is not surprising that the use of these techniques were reported to be associated with high levels of aggressive response.  Interestingly, the most commonly reported source of these techniques was television, and while the research did not ask for specifics, it can be assumed that many of these techniques were learned from a popular television show hosted by Cesar Millan.

This study reinforces my own observations that dogs frequently respond aggressively to these confrontational techniques, from fear and anxiety, and that these techniques tend to make these conditions worse, continuing a spiral of deteriorating behavior, often resulting in either attacks on owners, redirected attacks on other humans, dogs, cats and other animals in their environment, or surrender of the unmanageable animal to an adoption facility.  Add to these issues the well-illustrated fact that confrontational methods are not effective, and any reasonable, science-based dog owner should conclude that these techniques have no place in the world of our dogs.  The science of ethology, modern animal behavior, is continuing to drive home this point in hard data.

03.29.14 ♥ 11393


This is the bizarre sight that greeted me as I opened the kitchen blinds this morning.  Wrestling starlings.  They’d grab hold of one another and stay in the same clasp for ages before repositioning as they fought for dominance.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this behaviour before.

03.10.14 ♥ 32


Wolves are better imitators of conspecifics than dogs

When wolves observe another canine take hold of a treat in a clever way, wolves imitate this behavior more often than domesticated dogs. Wolves probably are more used to watch conspecifics, because they live in groups. Swiss and Austrian researchers came to this conclusion in the scientific magazine PLOS One.

Picture: The test apparatus and the two kinds of demonstrations

The researchers let 14 wolves and 15 domesticated dogs watch how a trained dog gained access to food by opening a wooden box by it’s paw or mouth. All 14 wolves succeeded to imitate this trick, and used the exact same method as the trained dog. Only four of all the domesticated dogs succeeded to imitate the trained dog’s trick.

This however doesn’t mean that wolves are better in solving puzzles where food needs to be obtained. When the animals did not get a demonstration before, most of the time the wolves neither didn’t get the food out of the wooden box. The wolves probably succeeded better because wolves are better than dogs in imitate the tricks of their conspecifics.

Lead researcher Friederike Range explains on news website ScienceDaily:

"The wolves watched the trained dog very closely and were able to apply their fresly gained knowledge and solve the problem. Their ability to imitate is probably related to the fact that wolves in the wild are more dependant on collaboration with conspecifics."

Read the online scientific article here


A male Magnificent Rifflebird  mesmerizes a female by whipping his iridescent blue neck and wings back and forth.


A male Magnificent Rifflebird  mesmerizes a female by whipping his iridescent blue neck and wings back and forth.

03.02.14 ♥ 3314





Oh my god, my brother told me that crows/ravens are very good at immitating human speech and he showed me this video and… it’s so cool… yet so unsettling

Quoth the raven… wakka wakka…

this bird sounds like microsoft sam it’s unsettling

I want 2

This is all I could think of:


02.14.14 ♥ 57945

Crow solves an 8 step process.
Crows are amazing, I’ve been photographing them here in Seattle for a couple of years. They have distinct personalities and remember our faces. They actually started flying in and waiting for me when I would get home in hopes of a free unsalted peanut. I think of them as friends.

I had no idea they could do THIS.

An 8 step problem solving process. They’ve trained on each separate task, though not all together. This was the first time.

(Crows will survive the zombies and restart society, no doubt.)

02.09.14 ♥ 25660