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Innate Behavior: Reflexes, Kineses and Taxes

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  • 0:06 Innate Behavior
  • 1:01 Reflexes, Taxes and Kineses
  • 3:08 Fixed Action Patterns…
  • 4:46 Stereotypy and…
  • 6:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Weber

Danielle teaches high school science and has an master's degree in science education.

When there is a loud sound, you quickly jump without thinking. This is because this reflex is an innate, or inherited, behavior. In this lesson, we will look at reflexes as well as several other types of innate behaviors.

Innate Behavior Overview

Behavior can be described as a reaction to a stimulus, which is an internal or external event that leads to a response. Many forms of behavior are essential to an organism's survival.

Examples of behaviors range from hunting skills to avoiding predators to migrating south in the winter to mating rituals.

In this lesson, we will focus on innate behaviors, which are often called inherited or instinctive behaviors. These can be very simple or complex. Innate behaviors are fully functional the first time they are performed - even without previous exposure to the stimulus.

Let's look at the types of innate behaviors, as well as some examples, as we follow Craig through his day.

Reflexes, Taxes and Kineses

First, we will look at the most simple forms of innate behavior: reflex, taxis and kinesis.

Today, Craig has a doctor's appointment. As part of his physical, the doctor says that she is going to test Craig's reflexes. A reflex is an automatic response to a stimulus. In order to test his reflexes, the doctor uses a small rubber hammer to hit Craig's knee. When she does this, Craig's leg immediately kicks up. Even though Craig hasn't had this done before, because reflexes are innate, this reaction occurs without previous exposure to the stimulus.

After leaving the doctor's office, Craig decides to go for a walk near a pond. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that there are several mosquitoes flying around. Mosquitoes react to the carbon dioxide that Craig's body releases. This movement of the mosquitoes is known as taxis. A taxis is a response to a stimulus resulting in movement towards or away from the stimulus. Other examples of taxis include gravitaxis, which is movement towards or away from the pull of gravity, and thermotaxis, which is the movement toward or away from heat.

Craig decides that he does not enjoy being the victim of mosquito bites and instead heads home. As soon as he turns on the light in the hallway, he sees something small run across the floor. The reaction of this cockroach is an example of kinesis. Kinesis is the movement of an organism in response to a stimulus, but it does not result in movement directly towards or away from the stimulus. This can be a little challenging to differentiate from taxis, so let's compare the reaction of the mosquito to carbon dioxide and the cockroach to light. Remember that with taxis, the mosquito moves towards the carbon dioxide source in order to find food. However, when a light is turned on, the cockroach will quickly start running - not necessarily away from or towards the light. This is kinesis, as it is just movement as a response to the stimulus of the light being turned on and not associated with a direction.

Fixed Action Patterns and Migration

Now that we have the basics down, let's move on to more complex forms of innate behavior: fixed action patterns, migration, stereotypy and circadian rhythms.

After seeing the cockroach run across his floor, Craig decides that being at home may not be the best idea. Instead, he goes for a walk in the park (not near a lake this time). He notices a few birds in the trees singing and making some funny head movements. Because it is spring, he realizes that these birds may be going through mating rituals and remembers that many birds have complex sequences of actions and songs - even some funny dance moves - when it comes to mating. This is an example of a fixed action pattern, or a set sequence of movements triggered by a stimulus. These are more complex than those just seen with a reflex, taxis or kinesis. When the stimulus of the presence of a female bird occurs, a male will go through a specific sequence of movements in order to attract his potential mate.

While Craig does enjoy the songs of the birds, as he tries to watch his step on the path to avoid stepping in anything unpleasant under the tree, he cannot wait until the birds fly south again in the winter. This behavior is called migration, and is the seasonal movement from one area to another. Craig remembers that migration can also be seen in other species, including whales, which migrate in order to find water best suited for breeding and for feeding. Warmer water is good for breeding and giving birth, but colder water is generally better for feeding.

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