14 julio, 2024

Behavioral adaptation: what it is, what it consists of, examples

What is behavioral adaptation?

The behavior adaptation It refers to the change in the behavior of animals to achieve different objectives: ensure the reproduction of the species, obtain more food or protect themselves from unfavorable conditions.

It comprises a series of characteristics that increase the survival and reproduction of an individual in a certain environment. An example is the migration of birds that migrate south in winter because they find more food. Another example is the opossum or opossum, which plays dead in front of predators to confuse them.

Ethology’s main objective is the study of animal behavior and understanding it from an evolutionary point of view. Investigations into this body of knowledge may involve field work (direct observation of behavior) or through manipulation of the object of study in the laboratory.

It is a branch that integrates other disciplines of biology, such as physiology, neurology, ecology, among others. This multidisciplinary tendency allows not only to present a description of the observed phenomenon, but also to propose a series of explanations.

The advantage of an ethological pattern does not always depend on genetic control. In some cases the behavior may be the result of an accidental effect, so it cannot be considered a product of natural selection.


Charles Darwin is, without a doubt, one of the most prominent figures in the world of biology. his masterpiece The origin of species It was published in 1859 and revolutionized the field of biology, raising the mechanism of natural selection to explain evolutionary changes.

Furthermore, in 1872, in his book The expression of emotions in man and animalsshows how natural selection favors specialized behaviors for survival.

In fact, it is widely accepted by evolutionary biologists that natural selection is the only known explanation for the existence of adaptations.

In nature we have an almost infinite number of characteristics that we classify as adaptations, from camouflage to drug resistance in viruses and bacteria. Adaptations can occur at different levels, although the morphological ones are usually the most prominent and the best known.

Examples of Behavioral Adaptation

Adaptation to temperature in ectothermic organisms

Temperature is a crucial factor in all living beings, since it directly affects all the chemical reactions that occur inside them.

Depending on the way in which animals determine their body temperature, they can be classified as endotherms and ectotherms. The first group is capable of regulating its internal temperature, while the ectotherms do not. In fact, most of the animals correspond to the second group.

Ectothermic animals that are capable of maintaining their body temperature more or less constant and within adequate physiological ranges would be selected and their frequency in the population would increase. This statement is correct, according to studies carried out in various ectothermic groups, particularly in reptiles.

In reptiles, adaptations to maintain the proper temperature consist of a series of behaviors, such as selecting environments that absorb a large amount of the spectrum of solar radiation (rocks or dark areas, for example) to reach high temperatures.

Likewise, if the optimal temperature range for the individual is low, the organism may present a behavioral adaptation to lead an active nocturnal life in order to avoid high temperatures during the day.


The movement of animals in search of favorable conditions or propitious places for reproduction is a behavior that presents a wide range of groups, from butterflies to birds and bats.

Moving to a new place brings obvious advantages to the individuals who carry out said displacement, so its frequency will increase in the population.

Infanticide in pride of lions

Infanticide is an animal behavior that can be used by males to compete with each other. In lions, for example, this phenomenon occurs.

The basic unit of these cats is the herd, made up of a group of females with close kinship relationships and their respective offspring. Males are not as abundant in the herd (usually two or three).

Males can «move» to another herd, a very laborious and traumatic task in most cases. When the new member arrives, there are two possibilities: they can be violently rejected or, after an arduous fight, they win the position and become new members of the pack.

In the case of reaching the herd, males may resort to killing the young (since they are from other parents) to gain mating opportunities. This fact favors the males, but harms the reproductive success of the females.

Lionesses can deal with the situation in two ways: defending the cubs at the cost of their own lives, or miscarrying when a new male arrives in the pride. This way you avoid wasting energy on reproduction.

courtship in birds

One of the greatest spectacles of nature – before human eyes – are the courtship dances that birds develop to attract their potential partners. All the expenditure of energy in complex dances, display of colors and sounds has a single purpose: reproduction.

One of the most exotic cases is the typical courtship of the birds of paradise. This group of almost 40 species of flying vertebrates is very heterogeneous in terms of size, structure, and color. They belong to the Paradisaeidae family and are distributed throughout Oceania and most of it in New Guinea.

Different males are in charge of displaying themselves to the females and they choose the one they consider «the best». The decision of the female has been widely studied and the authors have proposed different hypotheses.

Displays displayed by males may be indicators of «good genes.» Thus, females will be very selective in ensuring these genes for their offspring.

Another hypothesis is related to the fact of the good supplier. If the female manages to identify a male that is capable of providing food, parental care, and other resources, he will be selected. The last explanation is related to pre-existing sensory biases.

hunting in pack

Many groups of predators have learned to hunt together. This is a way of adapting to difficulties when prey is not enough; members of the pack contribute to each other.


Many animals blend in with their surroundings to protect themselves from predators. This is the case, for example, of octopuses, which acquire the colors of nearby objects to blend in with rocks on the seabed.


Hibernation is a period of lethargy that some animals enter to protect themselves from the cold winter and the scarcity of food. During this time, they do not present any physiological activity (they do not eat or drink and stop digestion).

Among the animals that hibernate are bears, marmots, some turtles, snails or hedgehogs, among others.


Colgan, PW (1996). Perspectives in Ethology, Volume 11, Behavioral Design. Plenum Press.
Freeman, S., & Herron, JC (2002). evolutionary analysis. Prentice Hall.
Hickman, CP, Roberts, LS, Larson, A., Ober, WC, & Garrison, C. (2001). Integrated principles of zoology. McGraw-Hill.
Immelmann, K. (2012). Introduction to ethology. Springer Science & Business Media.
Soler, M. (2002). Evolution: the basis of Biology. South Project.

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