An ethogram is a record of behaviors exhibited by an animal used in ethology, the scientific and objective study of animal behavior. Ethology is a sub-topic of zoology, the study of animal biology. Researchers make a list of behaviors based on sample observations of animal groups or individual animals over time.
They next determine the activities of a group or an animal in the group during specific periods of time (for example, 10 minutes 10 times per day on the hour from 8 a.m. to 4 pm.). Then can they combine their observation periods into an overall activity budget, or ethogram, showing how each animal, and the entire colony, spends its time. For example, if you observe an animal grooming itself or another animal during 3 of the 10 observation periods, you might think that it spends 30% of its time during the day grooming. But you would actually want to average your data over a week, month or even a year to get a more accurate percentage over time. (This works best for animals that are awake during the day and sleep at night, like most primates.)
- Try your own sample marmoset ethogram here. Observe an animal group or individual animal on a web cam such as the Callicam, in a video such as Marmosets at the WNPRC, or at the zoo, in the wild, or even with your pet.
- Place a check mark in the right column for each behavior you observe. Compete a new ethogram sheet each time you do the experiment, for a total of 10 times throughout the day, whether you are doing an entire family of animals or following just one individual.
Ethograms are used in the wild to study animals over time to learn what behaviors are typical, which ones may be abnormal, and to monitor the health and stability of a group through group interactions. Scientists can even learn about new, previously unobserved behaviors and what they can tell us about the animals and their surroundings. Ethograms can help scientists learn about changes in behavior that might be related to disease, habitat loss, new predators in the area, and other stresses or threats to the animals, their groups, or even an entire species.
In a zoo, lab or other controlled setting, new predators would not be a concern, but illness, social stability and overall health of the colony can be recorded through ethograms.
Ethograms are also used for both wild and captive populations to determine social interactions. These studies can reveal which animals in any group are friends, who is dominant, who is submissive, and other social conditions.
Thank you for learning about ethograms!