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An ethogram is a catalogue or inventory of behaviours or actions exhibited by an animal used in ethology.

The behaviours in an ethogram are usually defined to be mutually exclusive and objective, avoiding subjectivity and functional inference as to their possible purpose.[1][2][3][4] For example, a species may use a putative threat display, which in the ethogram is given a descriptive name such as "head forward" or "chest-beating display", and not "head forward threat" or "chest-beating threat". This degree of objectivity is required because what looks like "courtship" might have a completely different function, and in addition, the same motor patterns in different species can have very different functions (e.g. tail wagging in cats and dogs). Objectivity and clarity in the definitions of behaviours also improve inter-observer reliability.

Often, ethograms are hierarchical in presentation. The defined behaviours are recorded under broader categories of behaviour which may allow functional inference such that "head forward" is recorded under "Aggression". In ethograms of social behaviour, the ethogram may also indicate the "Giver" and "Receiver" of activities.

Sometimes, the definition of a behaviour in an ethogram may have arbitrary components. For example, "Stereotyped licking" might be defined as "licking the bars of the cage more than 5 times in 30 seconds". The definition may be arguable, but if it is stated clearly, it fulfils the requirements of scientific repeatability and clarity of reporting and data recording.

Some ethograms are given in pictorial form and not only catalogue the behaviours but indicate the frequency of their occurrence and the probability that one behaviour follows another. This probability can be indicated numerically or by the thickness of an arrow connecting the two behaviours. Sometimes the proportion of time that each behaviour occupies can be represented in a pie chart or bar chart

Animal welfare science[edit]

Ethograms are used extensively in the study of welfare science. Ethograms can be used to detect the occurrence or prevalence of abnormal behaviours (e.g. stereotypies,[5][6] feather pecking,[7] tail-biting[8]), normal behaviours (e.g. comfort behaviours), departures from the ethogram of ancestral species[9] and the behaviour of captive animals upon release into a natural environment.[10][11]

Reactions of animals to human presence[edit]

Ethograms have also been applied to research concerning the behavioural response of animals to the presence of humans. For example, it has been used to analyze the reactions of black bears[12] and baboons[13] to humans.


  1. ^ Abeelen, J.H.F. (1964). "Mouse mutants studied by means of ethological methods". Genetica. 34: 79–94. doi:10.1007/BF01664181. S2CID 44915853.
  2. ^ MacNulty, Daniel R.; Mech, L. David; Smith, Douglas W. (2007). "A Proposed Ethogram of Large-Carnivore Predatory Behavior, Exemplified by the Wolf". Journal of Mammalogy. 88 (3): 595–605. doi:10.1644/06-MAMM-A-119R1.1.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, M., Stirton, C. and McConnachie, A. (October 2010). "Behavioural observations of singly-housed grey short-tailed opossums (Monodelphis domestica) in standard and enriched environments". Laboratory Animals. 44 (4): 364–9. doi:10.1258/la.2010.010040. PMID 20807718.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Greenberg, N. "Anolis ethogram". Greenberg Homepage. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
  5. ^ Mason, Georgia J. (June 1991). "Stereotypies: a critical review". Animal Behaviour. 41 (6): 1015–1037. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(05)80640-2. hdl:10214/4622. S2CID 53187334.
  6. ^ Anderson, Claes; Arun, Attur Shanmugam; Jensen, Per (2010). "Habituation to environmental enrichment in captive sloth bears--effect on stereotypies". Zoo Biology. 29 (6): 705–14. doi:10.1002/zoo.20301. PMID 20069629.
  7. ^ Sherwin, CM; Richards, GJ; Nicol, CJ (August 2010). "Comparison of the welfare of layer hens in 4 housing systems in the UK". British Poultry Science. 51 (4): 488–99. doi:10.1080/00071668.2010.502518. PMID 20924842. S2CID 8968010.
  8. ^ Brunberg, Emma; Wallenbeck, Anna; Keeling, Linda J. (August 2011). "Tail biting in fattening pigs: Associations between frequency of tail biting and other abnormal behaviours". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 133 (1–2): 18–25. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.04.019.
  9. ^ Dawkins, Marian Stamp (August 1989). "Time budgets in Red Junglefowl as a baseline for the assessment of welfare in domestic fowl". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 24 (1): 77–80. doi:10.1016/0168-1591(89)90126-3.
  10. ^ McBride, G.; Parer, I.P.; Foenander, F. (January 1969). "The Social Organization and Behaviour of the Feral Domestic Fowl". Animal Behaviour Monographs. 2: 125–181. doi:10.1016/S0066-1856(69)80003-8.
  11. ^ Stolba, A.; Wood-Gush, D. G. M. (2 September 2010). "The behaviour of pigs in a semi-natural environment". Animal Production. 48 (2): 419–425. doi:10.1017/S0003356100040411.
  12. ^ Jordan, Robert H.; Burghardt, Gordon M. (1986-01-12). "Employing an Ethogram to Detect Reactivity of Black Bears (Ursus americanus) to the Presence of Humans". Ethology. 73 (2): 89–115. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1986.tb01002.x. ISSN 1439-0310.
  13. ^ Iredale, Steven K.; Nevill, Christian H.; Lutz, Corrine K. (2010). "The influence of observer presence on baboon (Papio spp.) and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) behavior". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 122 (1): 53–57. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2009.11.002. PMC 2836517. PMID 20228948.

External links[edit]

A sample ethogram of general behaviour: [1]