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10.4: Innate Behavior of Animals

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Is this Blue-footed Booby actually dancing?

The courtship of the Blue-footed Booby consists of the male flaunting his blue feet and dancing to impress the female. During the dance, the male will spread his wings and stamp his feet on the ground. Are these birds born with this skill, or do they learn it?

Innate Behavior

Behaviors that are closely controlled by genes with little or no environmental influence are called innate behaviors. These are behaviors that occur naturally in all members of a species whenever they are exposed to a certain stimulus. Innate behaviors do not have to be learned or practiced. They are also called instinctive behaviors. An instinct is the ability of an animal to perform a behavior the first time it is exposed to the proper stimulus. For example, a dog will drool the first time—and every time—it is exposed to food.

Significance of Innate Behavior

Innate behaviors are rigid and predictable. All members of the species perform the behaviors in the same way. Innate behaviors usually involve basic life functions, such as finding food or caring for offspring. Several examples are shown in Figure below. If an animal were to perform such important behaviors incorrectly, it would be less likely to survive or reproduce.

Examples of Innate Behavior. These innate behaviors are necessary for survival or reproduction. Can you explain why each behavior is important?

Intelligence and Innate Behavior

Innate behaviors occur in all animals. However, they are less common in species with higher levels of intelligence. Humans are the most intelligent species, and they have very few innate behaviors. The only innate behaviors in humans are reflexes. A reflex is a response that always occurs when a certain stimulus is present. For example, a human infant will grasp an object, such as a finger, that is placed in its palm. The infant has no control over this reaction because it is innate. Other than reflexes such as this, human behaviors are learned–or at least influenced by experience—rather than being innate.


  • Innate behaviors are instinctive. They are controlled by genes and always occur in the same way.
  • innate behaviors do not have to be learned or practiced.
  • Innate behaviors generally involve basic life functions, so it’s important that they be performed correctly.


Use these resources to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is a species-specific behavior? Give an example.
  2. What is a stereospecific behavior? Give an example.
  3. Define inherited behavior. Provide an example.
  4. Describe a fixed action pattern and sign stimulus.
  1. What is cognition?
  2. Describe imprinting.


1. What are innate behaviors? Give an example.

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innate behavior

Behavior closely controlled by genes that occurs naturally, without learning or practice, in all members of a species, whenever they are exposed to a certain stimulus; also called instinctive behavior.


Ability of an animal to perform a behavior the first time it is exposed to the proper stimulus.


Rapid motor response to a sensory stimulus in which nerve impulses travel in an arc that includes the spinal cord but not the brain.


Something that triggers a behavior.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Sep 04, 2016
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