This may not be a profession that readily comes to mind when thinking about animals…but if stated as: animal behavior- then most people can relate to the term. Therefore, ethology is the scientific and objective study of animal behavior, usually with a focus on behavior under natural conditions, and viewing behavior as an evolutionary adaptive trait. The desire to understand animals has made ethology a rapidly growing field. Since the turn of the 21st century, many aspects of  and even sexual conduct that experts long thought they understood, have been re-examined, and new conclusions reached. Ethology is now a well-recognized scientific discipline, and has a number of journals covering developments in the subject, such as Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Applied Animal Behavior ScienceBehavior, Behavioral Ecology and Journal of Ethology.

Because ethology is considered a topic of biology, ethologists have been concerned particularly with the evolution of behavior and the understanding of behavior in terms of the theory of natural selection. In one sense, the first modern ethologist was Charles Darwin, whose book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals influenced many ethologists. He pursued his interest in behavior by encouraging his protégé George Romanes, who investigated animal learning and intelligence using an anthropomorphic method that did not gain scientific support.


The field of animal behavior is concerned with understanding the causes, functions, development, and evolution of behavior. The causes of behavior include all of the stimuli that affect behavior, whether external (food or predators) or internal (hormones or nervous system changes). The function of behavior include both the immediate effects of behavior on an animal (such as attracting a mate), and the adaptive significance of the behavior in a particular environment (such as huddling together in cold weather). The development of behavior is concerned with the ways in which behavior changes over the lifetime of an animal. The evolution of behavior is concerned with origins of behavior patterns and how these change over generations of animals.

Considering the preceding paragraph, most scientists directly involved in animal behavior are found within two disciplines: Ethology and comparative psychology. These disciplines overlap greatly in their goals, interests, and methods. Ethologists usually are trained in departments of biology, zoology, entomology, wildlife, or other animal sciences, whereas most comparative psychologists are trained in psychology departments. Some jobs in animal behavior require only a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor or Science (B.S.) degree. However, greater opportunities in animal behavior require advanced degrees, sometimes a Master of Arts or Science (M.A., M.S.) but usually a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.).

A typical Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior program takes four years and offers courses such as:

  • Biological theories of behavior
  • Animal cognitive studies
  • Primate social behavior
  • Animal communication
  • Social insect behavior
  • Ecology
  • Adaptive responses in mammals
  • Neurobiology


  • College Teaching and Research: Most animal behaviorists teach and/or do research at colleges and universities
  • Zoos, Conservation Groups, Museums: Zoos and museums occasionally hire animal behaviorists as curators or researchers
  • Applied Animal Behavior: Many are employed by academic departments such as animal science, wildlife, or entomology, for research aimed at areas such as improving livestock production, managing wildlife populations, studying endangered species, or controlling pests
  • Zoo or Museum Assistants: Some zoos and museums hire research assistants or educators

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that Wildlife Biologists had a median salary of $57,710 with a projected turnover of 5% or 1,000 jobs through 2022. This pay was based upon an entry-level education of a bachelor’s degree.