BIOL254: Comparative Animal Behavior

Name : Krista Perks, PhD (they/she)
Email :
Office Hours: By appointment 12-1 Tuesdays and Thursdays via Zoom.

Teaching Assistant
Name : Bilge Buyukdemirtas (Melon Lab)
Email :
Office Hours : By Appointment

Peer Tutor
Name : Sarah Timbie
Email :
Submit a request for tutoring

Classroom Sessions
Mondays and Wednesdays 1:20-2:40pm SCIE189 (the fishbowl)

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

—Albert Einstein

The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.


Background and Introduction

As an introduction to the study of animal behavior, this course will examine the factors that control the behavior of vertebrates and invertebrates within evolutionary, and physiological contexts. All animals face similar challenges and we will examine the common, and sometimes unique, behavioral strategies used to meet these challenges. This kind of comparative approach is paramount to ethology, which is the scientific study of animal behavior. Animal behavior is the main subject of this course, and the overarching goal is learning what it means to understand animal behavior through the scientific method. To achieve this goal, you will practice synthesizing knowledge and approaches from diverse fields of science that you have already encountered in your studies: genetics, evolutionary biology and ecology, developmental biology, neuroscience, molecular biology, and psychology (to name a few).

Of you I ask:

  • Respect to yourself and others in the class.

  • Independence and self-motivation. This is your education. The learning process belongs to you.

  • That you have fun and explore.

We’ll be working together to create an equitable and inclusive environment of mutual respect, in which we all feel comfortable to share our moments of confusion, ask questions, and challenge our understanding. Everyone should be able to succeed in this course. If you do not feel that is the case please let me know.

You are encouraged to scrutinise and question learning material as you explore topics in your own way. I, as the instructor, am here to serve as your coach from the sidelines. The goal is for you to develop your own understanding of the topics and practice the skills needed to be a life-long learner – skills that you can apply to learning anything, in academia, your career, or life in general. Among the broader skill goals that you will be working on are: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

This class is about more than Animal Behavior as a topic itself. The content of the “animal behavior” is vast. This course is curated to mentor you in “thinking like an animal behavior scientist” - a priority greater than the task of ‘knowing’ all specific details of behaviors we discuss. Outside of the course, many of you are unlikely to be regularly applying most (if any) of the specific content knowledge about each sub-topic or behavior that we explore inside this course. This is not to diminish the importance of this content, but rather to emphasize the importance of getting more than just content “knowledge” memorization out of this (and any) classroom experience. In this course (and others) I hope you find inspiration and develop your own interests, and develop the skills to go on to study those interests in depth in your own unique ways.

It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin1, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known but to question it

-— Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Course Resources


(subject to change)

Classroom Sessions

Group work has been shown to enhance professional behaviors and job preparedness, particularly building communication and team management skills (Cartwright et al., 20212; Senay, 20153). In-class work enables you to develop concepts and deepen your understanding of those concepts through exploration and discussion. Interactions among students and between students and the instructor are intentionally student-focused and assessment-oriented (formative, not summative).

Classroom format:

  1. Students are expected to work collaboratively, generally in groups of three or four.

  2. The students work on the activity during class time with a facilitator present.

  3. The dominant mode of instruction is not lecture or instructor-centered; the instructor serves predominantly as a facilitator of student learning.

  4. Students have assigned (rotating weekly) roles within their groups.

  5. The activities are designed to draw on your past knowledge and critical thinking skills to introduce terms and concepts. You won’t necessarily “know the answers” before you start.

  6. Groups are expected to complete all of the Questions during class. There may be additional exercises or problems expected to be completed outside of class.

For group in-class work, specific roles are:4

  • Scribe

    • Takes the official group notes to be turned in by the end of the week (via Gradescope).

  • Manager

  • Speaker

    • Called on to share the group’s answers on the specific peer work questions.

Rotate these roles weekly within your group. We will rotate groups approximately each month.

It is helpful if at least one person from each group brings a computer or tablet (or similar) to class. If this is not possible, please discuss with me so that I can help.

Identity Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student’s legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.

Class Preparation
In preparation for class, complete any “Assignments” listed in the Schedule page. Sometimes this will include producing work that you bring to the corresponding classroom session, other times it will just include readings or listenings. Readings and listenings are meant to reinforce the concepts that are introduced (either before or after) through classroom activities and discussion.


All graded work will be handed in via Gradescope.


Peer Work 20%
Due each Friday by 11PM (EST/EDT).

Each week:

  • the group scribe (a rotating role) is responsible for uploading a specific subset of the work that your group did in class.

    To get credit, in your submission you must both include all the group members AND specify the page on which each question is addressed.

  • the group manager (a rotating role) is responsible for uploading their assessment of their group’s work dynamic that week.

This work will be graded either 0:missing, 1:incomplete/insufficient, or 3:complete. Your final score at the end of the semester will reflect a cumulative sum of your scores on each submission. Added into this score will be CR/U for any additional in-class assessments.

Attendence in classroom sessions is mandatory. If unforseeable emergency comes up, please reach out as soon as possible so that we can make a plan.

Summative Assessments 60%
Instead of one or two big exams, you will have several smaller assessments (five total). The due dates are listed in the Summative Assessment tab. The points you earn on each will be tallied toward your total exam score for the semester. The due dates may be subject to change if there are major shifts in the daily schedule due to the differing needs of each particular class as your unique class moves through the material.

Capstone 20%
Due by midnight on the first day of final exams (May 16). Your work throughout the semester builds toward your Capstone assignment: a media project (written, audio, video, etc) that summarizes the current scientific understanding of a specific animal behavior through Tinbergen’s four levels of analysis: ontogeny, mechanism, phylogeny and adaptive value.

Bias-UP your grade
You can bias your final grade higher by significantly contributing to the course resource. Use the “repository” link (mouse over the cat icon on any course page) to open a discussion, issue, or feature request in the course’s github repository (note that this will require creating a free github account if you do not already have one). This can include minor things like catching an editing mistake, to suggestions for re-wording of questions or explanations, to additions of new examples that explore course concepts. If you end up teatering between a B+ and and A- for your final grade, your contributions via the issues link would be the way to have the grade “biased upward”.


Email Policy
I do my best to respond to emails within 24 hours. However, I cannot guarantee email communication over the weekend as this time is reserved for family.

Writing Workshop Working on your writing? Don’t go it alone! Instead, make a free one-on-one appointment with peer writing tutors at the Writing Workshop. Trained to help Wesleyan writers at any stage of the writing process, writing tutors are available for online appointments, Sunday - Friday at a range of times. Let us help you get your ideas out of your head and onto paper!
Make an appointment by going to Wesportal→ Academics–>Writing Workshop Account. You’ll be asked to make an account before being brought to our online scheduler.
Want semester long support? Apply for a writing mentor who will work with you for an hour every week. Focus on specific writing tasks like organization and time management with the help of a trained peer all while earning a .25 credit!
Learn more here or email Professor Lauren Silber or the Ford Fellow.

Deadlines Assignment due dates are available from the start of the semester. Students are expected to meet all deadlines. Extracurricular activities (sports, social/volunteer activities) and other academic commitments are unacceptable excuses for rescheduling requests. Rescheduling a test will only be considered in unforeseen and extreme circumstances.

Time Commitment
Attendence in classroom sessions is mandatory. If your in-class work is finished before the classroom session ends, you can use the additional time to work on Take Home work or explore the preparation further. I have designed the class so that it should be feasible to satisfactorily complete the requirements with approximately twelve hours per week of time commitment (as per the standards for a full credit course). If you are spending more time than this on a regular basis I encourage you to check in with me.

Accommodation Statement
Wesleyan University is committed to ensuring that all qualified students with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, its programs and services. To receive accommodations, a student must have a disability as defined by the ADA. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact Accessibility Services as soon as possible. If you have a disability, or think that you might have a disability, please contact Accessibility Services in order to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. Accessibility Services is located in North College, rooms 021/218, or can be reached by email or phone (860-685-2332).

Religious Observances
Faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments, or required assignments/attendance. If this applies to you, please speak with me directly as soon as possible at the beginning of the term.

If you anticipate that your religious/spiritual observance may conflict with academic obligations such as attending class, taking examinations, or submitting assignments, you can work directly with your professor to make reasonable arrangements. Should you require additional support or guidance, please feel free to reach out to Rabbi David Teva, Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life or any of the chaplains in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

For a list of religious holidays celebrated by members of the Wesleyan community, go to Wesleyan’s Multifaith calendar.

Discrimination and Harassment
Wesleyan University is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. Wesleyan will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student. For purposes of this Wesleyan policy, “Protected Classes” refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office for Equity and Inclusion at 860-685-4771. The responsibility of the University Members has more information.

Title IX Resources
If trauma inhibits your ability to fully participate in class, please contact Debbie Colucci, Title IX Coordinator,, or your class dean. Additionally, and if you are comfortable, you can work directly with your professor to make reasonable arrangements.

Honor Code
All students of Wesleyan University are responsible for knowing and adhering to the Honor Code of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council – Office of Student Affairs. Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). The Office of Student Affairs has more information.

I remind students of the Wesleyan honor code which you signed as a first-year student. I value your academic integrity and therefore require that you sign the following summary pledge: In accordance with the Honor Code, I affirm that all work for this course expresses my own contributions (including in collaboration with others) and all content taken from other sources has been properly acknowledged. I affirm that all work is completed without improper assistance.

For written and multimedia work: In accordance with the Honor Code, I affirm that this work is my own and all content taken from other sources has been properly acknowledged

It is expressly forbidden to submit work from another course without my permission. While written reports will be accepted, they must be accompanied by an electronic format too. Submitting only in electronic format is acceptable. Please note that active checking for plagiarism will occur. Ensure that all sources are cited and in sufficient detail for the reader to locate your primary source. Consult with me if you are uncertain whether a source needs citing. Don’t risk plagiarism as this is an academic violation with severe consequences. Should I suspect the honor code has been violated, I will consult the Vice President for Student Affairs to decide whether to refer the matter to the Honor Board.

Skills beyond content More than eighty percent of employers surveyed indicated that undergraduate education should place more emphasis on the following three areas:

  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning

  • Problem solving and analysis

  • Written and oral communication

Problems versus Exercises A problem exists when one does not know what to do or does not have an internalized algorithm for obtaining an answer. If one knows what to do, it’s not a problem—it is an exercise. Many STEM textbooks have numerous numbered items at the end of each chapter for students to solve; regardless of how these are labeled, in most cases the vast majority of these items are exercises, not problems. That is, students in general know what to do when they encounter these items: they either have an internalized algorithm for generating a correct answer, or they know that what they need to do to generate a correct answer is to look back through the chapter for a sample item that is phrased similarly and then mimic the solution that is presented there.


Oxford languages defines it as: “a person, typically a child, in ragged, dirty clothes”. It is also a breed of cat. The term ragamuffin is used affectionately in this context of recognizing the value of rugged scrappiness. Though its roots are in describing a lazy and worthless, or beggarly individual. In the early 19th century the word became associated with the children who would dress up for Thanksgiving as ragamuffins and parade asking for handouts, parodying begging and beggars. I have not found any resources informing that this word is derogatory or discriminatory nor contains any racial undertones. If you are informed otherwise do not hesitate to edit this quote for the syllabus.


Cartwright, N.M., Patil, P., Liddle, D.M., Newton, G., and Monk, J.M. Enhancement of Professional Behaviours and Perceptions of Critical Skill Job Preparedness through the Use of a Group Work Contract in Fourth-Year Nutritional Science Students. Int. J. High. Educ. 10, 2021.


Senay, S. (2015). On the impacts of project based learning for workplace preparedness of engineering graduates. In 10th System of Systems Engineering Conference, (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.), pp. 364–367.


Details of the roles:

  • scribe

    • Records the names and roles of the group members at the beginning of each activity.

    • Records the important aspects of group discussions, observations, insights, etc.

      • “This seems like an important conclusion. Let’s stop for a minute so I can get this into our report.”

      • “That was a great insight. Do you mind (name) if I quote you in our group’s report?”

    • The recorder’s report is a log of the important concepts that the group has learned.

  • speaker/presenter/liason

    • Communicates team questions and clarifications with the teacher or other teams. (This is the only team member designated to do so.)

      • “Our team is confused about how _____ relates to _____.”

      • “Our team reached consensus that the answer to number _____ was ______.”

    • Ensures all team members have had a chance to respond before asking outside sources.

      • “Does anyone in our team know the answer to _______?”

      • “Before we ask the teacher, could someone clarify the answer to….”

    • Ensures that everyone in the team agrees on what to ask if an outside source is needed.

      • “Does everyone agree we need to find out … ?”

    • Presents conclusions of the team to the class, as requested.

      • “The reasoning we used to answer number ______ was …”

  • manager/facilitator

    • Make sure team starts quickly and remains focused during the activity.

      • Assign tasks for collecting and distributing materials as needed.

      • Assign roles like calculator or significant figure checker.

      • “I think we have everything, are we ready to begin?”

    • Takes care of time management.

      • Keep an eye on the clock.

      • Keep team moving forward and communicate about discussion deadlines.

      • “I think we need to focus on _______ so we complete this section on time.”

      • “We have _____ minutes before we need to discuss this. Let’s get this done.”

    • Make sure all voices in the team are heard.

      • Address team members by name and ensure that everyone contributes.

      • Assign different members to read sections of activity on a rotating basis.

      • “(Name), what do you think about … .?”

      • “I would like to hear what you think, (name).”