Animal Behavior

Animal Instinct, Learning, and Emotions

What is agonistic behavior in animals?

Agonistic behavior in animals is actually another name for aggressive behavior. It often includes threats or actual combat to settle disputes among individual animals, whether it is about food, mating, shelter, or territory. Animals show aggression through sound (such as growls, barks, trumpeting), sight (changing coloration or inflating body structures), and even scent. They can change the way they move, where they perch, or how much tooth enamel they display. For example, yawning among male mandrills is often not an expression of boredom but rather an opportunity to display their well-honed canine teeth. Or chest-beating in gorillas is part of an aggressive behavior display usually presented by a silverback (male) against unrelated silverbacks. A chest-beating display, accompanied by hoots and barks, may also be used to impress females. Also, in ritualistic or symbolic aggression, the behavior often prevents either animal from serious harm. For example, when a dog shows aggression by baring its teeth, growling, and its back hairs stand on end, they are merely ways of making the dog look “bigger” and more menacing. Most dogs meeting with such a behavior will turn with its tail between its legs, run off, and usually won’t approach the other dog again.


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