Examining Courtship

What is a courtship behavior?

The focus of this website is the broad category of courtship behaviors, or those sets of behaviors animals use to communicate a desire to mate. A wide variety of animals and behaviors are presented here in order to demonstrate just how broad and fluid the term courtship really is. These behaviors include penis fencing by flatworms, territorial strategy by lizards, sexual mimicry in cuttlefish, and courtship specific adaptations in pipefish.


Peacock courtship display that involves the male displaying their tail feathers to impress females. (Source: kmbiology.weebly.com)

Understanding Courtship Behaviors through Tinbergen's 4 Questions

Since the topic touches such a wide range of behavioral sets it can be useful to have a template or theme for the analysis. A common and helpful tool is Tinbergen’s four questions, a categorization of explanations for behavior introduced in a 20th century paper by the author. These questions are grouped into those that deal with proximate explanations and ultimate causations as well as snapshot (the immediate reasoning for a behavior) and chronicle (the overarching drive of the behavior). The proximate and snapshot explanation of a behavior is referred to as the mechanism while the proximate  and chronicle explanation is called ontogeny. Similarly, the ultimate and snapshot explanation of a behavior is referred to as the adaptive value while the ultimate and chronicle explanation is the phylogeny. These explanations are further described and put to use in the case of four different behaviors throughout this website.

tinbergens 4 questions

An informational flowchart explaining the process of utilizing Tinbergen's 4 questions to better understand a behavior and the potential genetic basis for a behavior. (Source: wikiwand.com)