Dr. Wade Znosko, assistant professor of biology
The course seeks to give students “a new appreciation for the complexity of the decisions animals have to make on a daily basis,” said Znosko. “Many people think of common animals such as insects or bees as simple, but even the most common animals have some of the most complex behaviors.”
Foraging or grooming?
Foraging, communication, predator-prey interactions, mating and parental care are behaviors studied by students. “Students have to observe and classify behaviors—for example, is this a mating behavior or a grooming behavior?—which is more difficult than they expect.”
8 weeks of experiments
Students design and conduct two four-week experiments in which they observe animal behavior, either in the field—birds most commonly—or the lab, where crayfish, anoles (small lizards), guppies and leopard frogs have been studied. “I’m always surprised by how invested students get in their experiments. They come out thinking, ‘I barely scratched the surface. That was not long enough.’”
All experiments are strictly observation after changing environmental conditions; no animals are harmed in any way.
The course, developed by Znosko and first taught at Longwood in 2012, “always fills up quickly, sometimes within hours,” said the developmental biologist, who calls it “one of my favorite courses to teach.” Offered every other year and limited to biology majors, typically juniors and seniors, it’s being taught this fall semester.
Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach (10th edition), John Alcock; Exploring Animal Behavior: Readings from American Scientist (sixth edition), edited by Paul W. Sherman and John Alcock