Tropical Animal Behavior


Peter N. Lahanas Ph.D.

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation
2911 NW 40th Place
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: (352) 367-9128
Fax: (352) 367-0610



Leptodiera eating Agalychnis eggs.web

Cat-eyed Snake eating Red-eyed Tree Frog Eggs



This course is designed to introduce students to basic field methods and important theoretical concepts in animal behavior. With a combination of lectures, group field exercises, and individual research projects, students will be immersed in the ecology and evolution of a neotropical forest. This course should help students develop the theoretical background and analytical tools necessary to formulate and test hypotheses relating to animal behavior. The second half of the course will be largely devoted to individual research projects. Due to the presence of both marine and terrestrial habitats at the Bocas del Toro Biological Station, the number of potential behavioral subjects is immense, and ranges from mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects in terrestrial ecosystems to fish, mollusks, and other invertebrates on the coral reef. Students will be expected to spend large amounts of time in the forest or the water, engaging the organisms firsthand, learning how to discern what animals do, and trying to understand why.


Formal lectures will take place in the classroom and will include the use of overhead projectors, chalk boards, and/or slide projector. In addition, informal lectures will be given periodically during orientation walks (when you first arrive), during group field projects or in discussion groups. These will cover a wide variety of topics and will generally be prompted by what we encounter in the field, or by the direction taken during group discussions.

Required Textbook:

  • Martin, P. and Bateson, P. 1994. Measuring Behavior: An Introductory Guide. Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN 0-521-44614-7.
  • An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology (3rd ed). By J. R. Krebs and N. B. Davies. 1993. Blackwell Science, Inc. 420 pp. ISBN: 0632035463.

Suggested Supplemental Readings:

The student’s understanding of tropical ecosystems, and what they are likely to find there, will be greatly enhanced if they read one or more of the following books before arriving in Panama.

  • Forsythe, A. and K. Miyata. 1987. Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America. Simon & Schuster, New York. ISBN 0-684-18710-8 (paperback).
  • Kricher, J. 1997. A Neotropical Companion. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-04433-3 (paperback).
  • Janzen, D.H. 1983. Costa Rican Natural History. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-39334-8 (paperback).

Group Field Projects

All students will participate in several group projects, which introduce basic field techniques, research methods, and hypothesis testing. With help from the faculty, groups will formulate a research question, design field methods, and collect data. Students then will analyze the results and write them up.

Lecture Topics


  • Introduction to the tropics, and what makes them unique
  • How is rigorous science done? (hypothesis falsification, prediction)
  • Methodology: observational and experimental approaches to behavioral research
  • What are adaptation, drift, and constraint, and how important are they in explaining the patterns we see?
  • Natural selection and sexual selection, and how the two come together in a single organism
  • Single species behaviors: reproductive and mating behaviors, communication, parental care, feeding ecology
  • Species interactions: mimicry, mutualism, competition, predation, pollination, seed dispersal

Last Update: 06-Jun-2013 12:23