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Take a Peek into the Animal Behavior Lab

October 24, 2019

Written by Jen Merry

Are larger clawed crayfish more aggressive? Are crayfish territorial? Does size matter?

The Animal Behavior (BIOL 208) lab exposes Biology students to the broad, interdisciplinary field of animal behavior. In Dr. Justin Merry’s lab shown in this video, students are testing hypotheses about what traits best predict the ability of the crayfish to control resources in territorial contests. Candidate traits include factors like mass or length, as well as claw size, health (as inferred by body-mass index), or even animal personality. The emphasis throughout the laboratory course is that students are generating their own hypotheses (often based on background reading), devising their own experiments, and then collecting, analyzing, and reporting on their own data.

The Animal Behavior course is a requirement for Aquarium & Zoo Science majors and also serves as a Biology elective for General Biology, Pre-Medicine and Environmental Studies majors. Students in other majors often take the course as a part of a biology minor or elective.

Course topics in the animal behavior lecture/lab range across much of biology.  Students learn about how genetic and environmental influences shape behavior, how the nervous and endocrine systems control behavior, and now natural selection drives the evolution of behavior. In the lab, students investigate live animals in a variety of contexts. Students quantify the limits to chemosensation in house flies, evaluate the optimality of foraging behavior of wild bird populations, record mating behaviors in Betta fish, and even test hypotheses about human mate advertisements using online dating websites. 

No crayfish were harmed in this video (or in this lab). 

Biology at Saint Francis University