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Social Behavior of Animals

Social animals are animals that are highly interactive with other members of their own species.

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Social Behavior of Animals

Playing or fighting?

This display of aggression may be over a mate or land. But they definitely are not playing. This fight will continue until one is badly injured and flees, or the fight may continue to the death.

Social Behaviors

Different types of behavior evolved in animals because the behaviors helped them survive or reproduce. In many species, animals live together in a close-knit group with other members of their species. Such a group is referred to as a society. Animals that live in a society are known as social animals. They live and work together for the good of the group. This is called cooperation. Generally, each member of the group has a specific role that it plays in the society. Cooperation allows the group to do many things that a lone animal could never do. Look at the ants in Figure below. By working together, they are able to carry a large insect back to the nest to feed other members of their society.

Cooperating insects

Cooperation in a Social Insect. These ants are cooperating in a task that a single ant would be too small to do alone.


For individuals to cooperate, they need to communicate. Animals can communicate with sounds, chemicals, or visual cues. For example, to communicate with sounds, birds sing and frogs croak. Both may be communicating that they are good mates. Ants communicate with chemicals called pheromones. For example, they use the chemicals to mark trails to food sources so other ants can find them. Male dogs use pheromones in urine to mark their territory. They are “telling” other dogs to stay out of their yard. You can see several examples of visual communication in Figure below.

Visual communication in animals

Visual Communication in Animals. Many animals use visual cues to communicate.


Aggression is behavior that is intended to cause harm or pain. It may involve physical violence against other individuals. For example, two male gorillas may fight and use their canine teeth to inflict deep wounds. Expressing aggression this way may lead to serious injury and even death.

In many species display behaviors, rather than actual physical attacks, are used to show aggression. This helps prevent injury and death. Male gorillas, for example, are more likely to put on a display of aggression than to attack another male. In fact, gorillas have a whole series of display behaviors that they use to show aggression. They beat on their chest, dash back and forth, and pound the ground with their hands.


Aggressive behavior often occurs when individuals compete for the same resources. Animals may compete for territory, water, food, or mates. There are two basic types of competition: intraspecific and interspecific.

  • Intraspecific competition occurs between members of the same species. For example, two male deer may compete for mates by clashing their antlers together.
  • Interspecific competition occurs between members of different species. For example, one species of ant may attack and take over the colony of another ant species.


  • Types of animal behavior include social behaviors such as cooperation and communication.
  • Competition may lead to aggressive behaviors or displays of aggression.


  1. Explain why communication is necessary for social living.
  2. Describe communication in ants.
  3. What is aggression?
  4. What type of competition occurs between two dogs?
  5. Create a bulletin board or brief video to demonstrate the role of facial expressions in human communication.

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aggression Behavior that is intended to cause harm or pain.
communicate The activity of conveying information; needed for individuals to cooperate
cooperation Type of animal behavior in which social animals live and work together for the good of the group.
interspecific competition Relationship between organisms of different species that strive for the same resources in the same place.
intraspecific competition Relationship between organisms of the same species that strive for the same resources in the same place.
pheromone A secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species; used by some species for communication.
social animal Animal that lives in a society.
society Close-knit group of animals of the same species that live and work together.

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