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Home > The Courses > Course Home Pages > Biology: Lab 11: Animal Behavior

Biology: Lab 11: Animal Behavior

General Overview


Pre-Lab Preparation
Procedure Modifications
Alternative Lab Ideas



Tip: "I am one who uses the pill bug lab and I find it one that the AP kids can get really creative with. They designed their own behavioral studies, and asked questions like 'are the rollers faster or slower movers than the walkers?' They designed racecourses for the bugs, deciding that the rollers were somewhat slower. Other students checked to see if they preferred light over dark, or moist over dry, and one group even decided to use sandpaper versus filter paper to see if they liked rough better than smooth. I did a MetaCrawler search on Explorer to find out more about sow bugs and found some great sources with pictures and a number of explanations of the physiology of these fascinating crustaceans. They don't eat much, don't smell too disgusting, and kids can handle them with little difficulty. I have worked for over 20 years with Drosophila and have a whole lab designed around the Dance of the Fruit Fly, but I think that for behavioral studies, the pill bug is much easier to use."
-- Eloise Farmer, Torrington High School, Torrington, Connecticut. 2/3/99

Tip: "This lab makes a wonderful introduction to scientific inquiry and experimental design. In fact, this is usually the first lab we do of the year, and we spend some considerable time with it. All of my kids first do the same basic experiment of wet versus dry in the 'choice chambers.' Then they all design their individual experiments with a lot of creativity. One group ran up to the physics lab and returned with the light boxes for generating different colored light, and discovered that the pill bugs have a very strong aversion to red light. The previous year we had very inconclusive results in light/dark studies in the classroom under the fluorescent lights (which are not full spectrum bulbs). We then get into statistics, chi-squares, etc., and what does 'significant' mean in an experiment? It provides a great way to begin the year with an easy, fun experiment and gives me material to build on all year for experimental design."
-- Franklin Bell, St. Mary's Hall, San Antonio, Texas. 2/3/99


Pre-Lab Preparations
Tip: "I used the pill bug lab this year and last... it works well and the students get a kick out of 'playing' with the bugs. We don't order the pill bugs... just set up a pile of bricks in a shaded area and they will come. (At least, here in Massachusetts.)"
-- Mark Stephansky, Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, Whitman, Massachusetts. 2/3/99

Tip: "[To house pill bugs...] I just used some dead leaves and pieces of rotting wood that I gathered outside. (The bugs came in moist paper towels, but I figured they needed more 'natural' stuff.) I kept them in a big coffee can with bedding, some vegetables, and window screening on top. And a few crumpled-up paper towels I could keep moist. I'd never done the lab before, either. The bugs appear to have great attraction for each other, and next year I want to have my students work with individuals, as opposed to groups. It seemed from our wet/dry paper results (about half the class got wet, about half got dry) that wherever a bug settled down first, that's where all the rest settled."
-- Anne Soos, Stuart Country Day School, Princeton, New Jersey. 3/23/99


Procedure Modifications
Tip: "When I do the pill bug lab, I have my students place them in a petri dish lined with a dampened filter paper disk. I think the most important part of this portion of the exercise is to get them to really LOOK at the organism, so I give each student a hand lens, and then begin asking them questions: How many legs? What other appendages? How do they seem to detect their environment? How many segments? What do the eyes look like? Are they all the same species? How do they grow? Respire? Then I take quite a bit of time for the sketching part of this activity, for this is when they really SEE the organism. For the portion of the lab where students place pill bugs into a wet/dry choice chamber, watch for the group that has a strong light on one end of the table, or where a lot of jostling occurs. At the end of the time trial, I think it is important to point out that this is NOT a controlled experiment, and bring attention to the different variables that may have been introduced accidentally. This will be helpful when the students are asked to design their own controlled experiment in the last portion of the lab -- probably the most important part! (See The Lab Bench at The Biology Place, www.biology.com, for more information.)"
-- Theresa Holzclaw, Clinton, Tennessee. 3/26/99

Question: "A major problem: animals crawled UNDER the filter paper in the chambers that Carolina provided. We eventually used glue sticks to secure the filter paper, but I suspect the glue itself might add a food variable. Has anyone else used this kit and encountered similar problems? Any ideas on solutions?"

Answer 1: "I used the kits last year and had the same experience. This year we used the same containers but made our own partitions. We also used small pieces of Scotch tape and were able to keep the filter paper in place. The tape was placed away from the opening in the partition. It probably introduced another variable but it was the same for all of their setups so we did not worry about it."
-- Marla Vaughn, Oroville, California. 9/19/99

Answer 2: "The Ward's kit for lab 11 is really nice. The pill bugs don't crawl up the sides of the chambers and they are very durable. I've used them in workshops with teachers and they have gotten good reviews!"
-- Bobbie Hinson, Providence Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina. 9/20/99

Question: "Can the behavior lab be done outside of class?"

Answer 1: "My students do this as a summer assignment (lots of isopods to be found in their own yards in the summer!). As they are doing it at home, they do not have access to the filter paper and petri dishes recommended in the AP lab manual, so I have them use plastic deli containers (or something similar) and simple white paper towels. This works like a charm (the isopods want to get under the paper towels just as much as they want to get under the filter paper!). As you know, this lab has too many variables, so the substitution of materials will not make a great difference in the outcomes you observe."
-- Linda Wichers, Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan. 10/19/00

Answer 2: "My suggestion is time, time, and more time. I had my kids do this lab last year as an independent take-home project. When I looked at the final data, I realized that the pill bugs took up to 2-3 hours to settle down and congregate in their preferred habitat, be it dark, or moist, or whatever. But I will NEVER again try to do this lab in a 45-minute period. The data were always ambiguous as to the pill bug preference in 45 minutes, but not in a 2-3 hour period."
-- Franklin Bell, St. Mary's Hall, San Antonio, Texas. 10/20/00


Alternative Lab Ideas
Question: "Does anyone have a source or their own version of an animal behavior lab using bettas (Japanese fighting fish)?"

Answer 1: "I bred various fish as a graduate student and as a result I have a bit of experience with bettas.

"The betta males are very aggressive toward other males even in the absence of a female. They have been known to be aggressive toward other species with large fins such as some guppy varieties. That may be an interesting behavioral study-to determine what phenotypes male bettas are aggressive toward. I have also had the males kill females that are not receptive to their courtship. The males try to drive the female away in hopes that another will enter their territory.

"The breeding behavior of the males is also quite interesting. They will build bubble nests on the surface of the water and then place the fertilized eggs within them. The female is not a part of this and is driven away. The male guards the nest, continually reforming the bubbles.

"If you are not aware of this, bettas also have a specialized organ on top of their heads that allows them to remove oxygen from the surface of the water-that is why they are able to live in those small bowls (however, many people do not realize that bettas prefer water temps of 80° F, which usually is not achieved in those unheated bowls...).

"Bettas are quite interesting fish. I think that you and your students could have a lot of fun with them."
-- Heather Roffey, Smith Academy, Hatfield, Massachusetts. 2/3/00

Answer 2:
"On the developmental note: we raise medaka fish in the classroom. I have been fortunate to be able to carry these fish over from generation to generation for the past three years so the investment hasn't been too great. I also use them in anatomy when we study neural development. The fish eggs hatch within 10-14 days and no Web site beats the real thing when it comes to developmental biology."
-- Nancy Hein, Hawley High School, Hawley, Texas. 2/14/00

Answer 3: "Regarding experiments with bettas: see Animal Behavior Science Projects by Nancy Woodard Cain (ISBN 0-471-02636-0, approximately $12.95), Chapter 4, 'Aggressive Behavior of Siamese Fighting Fish.' Purpose: to observe how a male Siamese fighting fish displays to different kinds of opponents (another aggressive male in a separate bowl, a female in a separate bowl, a mirror image). This book has 20 different experiments, is written by someone with a Ph.D. in animal behavior, and is good. It is for 'young adults' but the experiments can be developed further."
-- Donna Light-Donovan, Croton-Harmon High School, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. 2/15/00


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