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Animal Behavior: Innate vs. Learned

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  • 0:01 Animal Behavior
  • 0:52 Innate Behavior
  • 2:29 Learned Behavior
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

There are some things that animals are born knowing how to do. These behaviors are innate. They are different than learned behaviors, which an animal must pick up through training, observation or experience. Learn more about these types of behaviors.

Animal Behavior

Did you ever watch a spider spin a web and wonder how it knew how to do that? Is there some secret spider school where young spiders take a class called Web Weaving 101? While there's no secret school, the real secret of how animals are born knowing how to do certain things is quite a mystery. We say an action is an innate behavior if it's an activity that an animal knows how to do from birth. The behavior does not have to be taught or practiced; the animal just knows what to do. Innate behavior is the opposite of learned behavior, which is an activity that an animal is taught through formal training, observation or experiencing their environment. In this lesson we will take a look at the differences between these two types of behavior.

Innate Behavior

There are many examples of innate behaviors in the animal kingdom. These behaviors get passed down from one generation to the next, which means they are programmed into the animal's genes. You could say the actions are just part of the animal's DNA or genetic makeup. These innate behaviors are important to an animal's survival and reproduction. For example, spiders instinctively know that dinner will be caught in the web they spin, just like birds know that their instinctive nest building skills will provide a comfortable place to hatch their eggs.

Because innate behaviors do not have to be taught, we see that even a baby animal that is raised away from its parents will develop the skill. An example of this is the sea turtle. Baby sea turtles hatch without ever seeing their parents. The momma sea turtle buries her eggs in the sand and then leaves them there to incubate. When the baby sea turtle hatches, it instinctively knows how to dig its way out of the sand.

This innate behavior is done in the same way every time and never modified from generation to generation. So we can say that innate behaviors are rigid and predictable. For example, it might take a baby sea turtle days to dig its way out of the sand, but no matter how long it takes, sea turtle hatchlings always wait until darkness has fallen to fully emerge and head for the ocean. This helps the hatchlings avoid predators that lurk nearby during the day and gives them a better chance of survival.

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