Behavior Projects
. . . . . . . S C I E N C E - P R O J E C T S / W O R L D - W I D E . . . . . . .

Behavior Projects

Fun Animal and Plant Behavior Studies on THIS page

1. Plant
2. Bug Behavior 3. Squirrel
4. Bird
5. Worm
6. Human Behavior 7. Pet
tree ringsants' sugar
Crickets' favorite temperaturesense of colorsense of colorsense of tastemale aggressivenesscan smell mask taste?cats vs dogs:
laser source
cut flowers
ant repellantsBeetles: strength vs weightfavorite foodssense of smellsense of lightsense of directioncan smell mask taste?cats vs dogs:
memory length
helical growth:
is it reversible?
ants' favorite food sizePill bugs: favorite foods tameness sense of being watched sense of gravityreaction rates smell versus gender Quick thinking!Dogs' favorite food
.. ants and pHPill bugs: sense of gravity sense of being watched?Parrots' favorite fruit regeneration taste versus gendervision versus gender Cats' favorite food
ants and food closenessPill bugs: can they see? Colors?city vs country
Kids' favorite fruits.
how many ants in nest?Childhood
of humor
ants' favorite flavorsPill bugs: sense of moisture

Most of the following projects for young scientists deal with animal behavior and are a great deal of fun in addition to teaching the development of a scientific plan, the value of controls, and interpretation of data. Therefore DO NOT UNDER-RATE THESE in their significance! A group of college freshmen spent a number of enjoyable afternoons designing and testing them. One of the 'givens' in the design was that the animals and plant subjects were to be found thoughout most of North America, and that there were no animal rights or human subject research concerns involved. Furthermore, a number of these projects can be subdivided such that a whole class can look at various aspects, which can then later be drawn together for a comprehensive class presentation.

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Plant behavior

  • Using trees' growth rings to monitor environmental impact
    It is well known that when trees are healthy and growing fast, their annual rings are wider, than those during times of drought or disease. No, this experiment does not require trees to be cut down to see the ring structure. Instead it will require the use of a special tool that can be twisted into the tree trunk to extract a core. Invite your local governmental forestry representative into your class for discussion and guidance before starting this project.
  • What are the best solutions to use to feed cut flowers? In this experiment you wish to help the cuttings to accomplish two things.
    • continued transpiration (movement of water up the stems)
    • continued feeding of nutrients
    On trick that will help you see the effectiveness of your treatments will be to use white flowers and add red food coloring to the water solution you are trying. Make a big batch of this colored water. Test a little of it on some flowers to know if you have added enough dye. In a few hours you should see the edges of the petals begin to turn red. Once your colored water supply 'works,' next take portions of it and add other things such as
    • sugar
    • salt
    • molasses (a "polymer")
    Do these increase or decrease the time it takes for the color to reach the petals? When you find one that helps the cut plants to move the dye faster, then experiment with different concentrations of that chemical.
  • Helical growth of vines. You may have noticed that when pole-beans, morning glories or other vines climb up fences, poles or strings, they climb in a corkscrew fashion - like a spring. That is a shape called a helix (plural = helices). There are two types of helix: right-handed and left-handed. Your school may have a stairwell that connects different floors. Most stairwells are also in the form of a sort of helix as the go round and round. Go stand by one now, and here is how to tell which sort of helix you have. Hold both arms straight out in front of you with fingers pointing straight ahead but slightly bent and thumbs pointing up. Now look at your left hand and pretend your fingers are going to move UP the steps. Are your fingers curled in the correct direction for going around the corners? If they are, then your stairwell is a left-handed helix. But if you need to use your right hand so that the fingers are curled in the direction to move UP the steps, then you have a right-handed helix. (Now, if you stand on your head, and do the same thing to move your fingers DOWN the steps, you should be using the same hand. So it doesn't matter which way you look at a spring or a screw, the handedness is always the same!)
    Now find a vine that is growing up something and forming a helix. Which handedness it is? Do all the vines of that type of plant have the same handedness? Unwind part of the leading (growing) end of the vine and wind it around the opposite way. Can you make the vine continue to grow in that direction, or does it merely grow further in its original direction?

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Animal Behavior


  • preferences for various sugar concentrations
    Solutions of table sugar (sucrose) can be made in several ways. The most straightforward is to add about 30 grams of sugar into 100 ml of water. This can then be diluted to form 0%, 7.5%, 15%, 22.5% and 30% solutions by placing 0 ml, 7.5 ml, 15 ml, 22.5 ml and 30 ml into five different containers. Then enough water is added to make each up to 30 ml total. (Obviously the 0% is only water, and the 30% is only the concentrated sugar solution already made.) These should then be placed in small containers in an area where ants are frequently seen. They could be placed in a circle around the opening to the ants' underground nest.
    Don't forget that there are many different kinds of sugar to test: sucrose, glucose, fructose; and other sweet things such as honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
  • testing various repellants
    One of the neat ideas to consider here is to give the ants something that they would normally really like - such as their favorite sugar concentration discovered in the previous experiment, and then put various substances in it that you might think that would be repulsive to ants. Thus the ants would only go to the "control" (what is it?), and not to the repellant one(s).
    What would be especially good would be to find something that is repellant to ants, but has no toxicity nor flavor or taste for humans. This could then be added to such foods as flour so as to prevent food spoilage during storage.
  • preferences regarding the size of food particles
    This experiment would require that you have available several different meshes of sieves. You might consider crumbling some dried bread. Sift it through the coarse sieve. Smaller pieces would go through, and those could be sifted through a finer sieve, and so on. Little piles of each size could be placed near the opening of an ant bed. Soon it should become apparent to which pile the ants flock.
  • pH preference
    This is a bit harder to do well, but a crude experiment can easily be done. Capture a few ants and place them within a "fence" of vasoline. Inside that fence are various pieces of paper, each dampened with some acidic or basic liquid. Vinegar is a readily available and safe (acetic acid), and household ammonia is a safe base. Various dilutions should be tried so as not to overwhelm the ants with fumes!
    Now explore your environment for where ants live. Do they prefer to live in grassy areas, or in areas where acid-loving plants live? Is your experiment supported by reality?
  • preference of proximity of food source
    This is very much like the first experiment above, except that in the first one all the containers were set out in a circle around the opening to the ants' home. In this experiment you should set the containers in a line leading directly away from the opening. In one trial, make the line such that the most dilute is closest to the opening, and in the second trial make the most concentrated first. Do the ants go the the closest one only, or do they still seek out the favored concentration discovered in the first experiment?
  • preference for caloric content
  • can ants see colors?
    In this experiment, place containers of the optimum sugar concentration in a circle around the opening, and then make little tents of different colored cellophane over each one such that the color under each is different. Food coloring might also be tried, but remember that it might have a special flavor for ants.
  • flavor preferences
    Again this is set up as a circle of sugar solutions around the opening of an ant-bed. Each little container should contain the same concentration of sugar - but not the optimum concentration. AND then a drop of different flavorings can be added to each container - vanilla, chocolate, lemon, etc.
  • Ant-bed population count.
    It is strongly suggested to find a small bed of large ants. You will have to capture unharmed exactly 100 of the ants, and paint a small dab of highly visible, quick-drying paint on their backs. Release them near the entrance of their nest so that they can find their ways home. Only release them once the paint is dry. After an hour, set out some sugar solution to attract large numbers of the ants. Do you see any of the painted ones? You should! It would best for you to take an overhead photograph of them, develop the film and then count all the ants in the picture, and count all the painted ones. Here comes so tricky mathematics! Suppose that there were 200 ants in the bed. This would mean that half of the ants would be painted. If there were 400 ants in the bed, then only a quarter of them would be painted; and so on. See if you can develop the math needed to solve the population count of your ant bed. (This technique is used to count the sparrows in a forest, or the number of homeless people on the streets of a large city.)


  • Can worms taste things
    Some worms are captured from outside (or purchased in a bait shop). These are rinsed with water and then placed on a damp paper towel (worms like it moist!). Thin strips of filter paper are then moistened with various solutions (vinegar, ammonia, vanilla, chocolate, etc.), and the worms are gently touched with these strips. How does the worm react? Does it flinch? Or does it seem curious?
  • Regeneration
    This is an experiment for the non-squeemish student. Worms are cut crosswise in halves, and then put back into the "litter" of soil and coffeegrounds. After several days, they can be sifted out of their litter and inspected for vitality. Do both halves live? Does the "blunt" end seem to have healed? How vigorous are they relative to the uncut control worms? How fast to they get back to normal? What advantage to the worm is this ability to regenerate itself?
  • Can worms see light?
    A rather neat device for this is to mix some coffee grounds with some gardent soil. Then add this mixture between two parllel panes of glass that are about separated about 1 cm apart using strips of wood. The whole apparatus can be held together my large clothespins. Cover halves of both panes with black paper. Add worms, and, after allowing them to burrow in and move around for a day, not whether the worm are in the light half or the dark side.
    This same device can be used to ascertain whether or not worms really know "up" from "down." As a further check of this sense of gravity, turn the apparatus upside down. Do the worms move to the lower portion or not?

Pill bugs or "rollie-polies" (Armadilidium vulgare)

  • Environmental preferences
    These fun little critters make ideal test animals for a whole class-full of studies. A useful "cage" is a two or more chambered device that has narrow passageways between the chambers. Thus if different environments are made in each container, the scientist can observe where the pill bugs prefer to be. A simple type of milti-chambered cage can be made from plastic petri-plates. Cut a half-centimeter wide piece out of the sides of two bottoms and two tops. Use cellophane tape to hold the two plates together with their doorways aligned. A scissors and tape is all that is required for this construction. Now consider these questions:
    • Light versus dark
    • Moist versus dry
    • Various foods
    • Uphill or downhill
    • Can the see colors? (put different colored plastics over the different chambers)


  • Comfort zone of city squirrels vs woodland squirrels
    Are city squirrels more tame that woodland ones? Put out some food, and when some squirrels congregate to start eating it, slowly approach. How close can you get before they run away.
  • Do squirrels recognize when you are looking at them?
    Do the same experiment as in the previous one, but this time slowly approach backwards, and have someone else watch from a distance to record when the squirrels scamper away.
  • Food preferences
    • Controls. Food groups, size, processed
      You must first find out what sorts of foods squirrels will eat if only one type is available. Try nuts, cheese, spam, apples, etc.
    • Next: Once you have determined what squirrels will each, then try them in pairs; and then try the "winners" of the match-ups against each other to develop a heirarchy of preference.
    • Food preferences of city squirrels vs woodland squirrels
  • Are squirrels colorblind?
    After discovering what sorts of foods squirrels will eat, choose one that can easily be colored with food coloring such as popcorn or peanuts in the shell.

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General Animals

  • Temperature preferences of cold-blooded animals
    This is a very interesting and photogenic experiment. What is needed is called a 'thermal-gradient' device. It might consist of a long piece of metal that is at least a centimeter thick. One end of this is placed on a hot plate and the other end in ice. Soon the metal attains a "steady state" gradient. You can determine this by placing thermometers at various points along its length. Make a graph of distance from one end versus temperature. See the nice curve? Over top this you can place a long half cylinder of clear plastic with cotton stuffed into the ends. Crickets, or roaches, or even your lab partners can be put into the 'tunnel' - all depending on how big it is. Do the critters all seek out a preferred temperature, or do the remain dispersed. What happens if you take the device away from the heat and ice, and allow it to equilibrate? Do the critters then disperse?
  • Strength of insects
    Here's a fun project on the Biology Page using harnessed "bess" beetles.
  • Can birds see color?
    The same technique can be used here as in testing whether or not squirrels can see color.
  • Do birds have a sense of smell?
    Find something that your type of bird likes to eat. Then add different odors to various batches of that food. Put the piles out for the birds to find, and see which aromas the birds like best (or maybe they are repelled by the others!).
  • Do birds know that they are being watched?
    Approach various birds by either walking frontwards or backwards and see how close you can get before they fly away.
    Another way is to scatter some seeds around in a large circle. Then sit in the middle, and look only in one direction. Do the birds eat the food nearer to you when they are behind your? (Both of these methods require that you have an observor off to the side some distance away.
  • Which fruit do parrots like best?
    For this experiment you will probably need the cooperation of a pet shop owner who has at least three hungry parrots. Cut up apples, oranges, etc., into small pieces and put them in various small piles for the parrots to eat. See which ones disappear first. Refill and rearrange the small piles and try it again. And again! Maybe on different days. You will probably get what are called "counter-intuitive results." Hint: go take a look at kids' favorite fruits.
  • Cause and Effect: which can more quickly determine the source of the point of light emitted by a laser pointer - dogs or cats?
    It is known that both cats and dogs will chase after the small point of light given off by a laser pointer. But how long does it take the animal to determine that it is from you that it comes? (A safety consideration: do not point the light into the face of the animal. You don't want your pet blinded!)
  • Do cats have longer memories than dogs?
    This can be tested in several different ways. While the pet watches, put a favorite food under one of three opaque containers so that the pet can no longer see it, but do not let the pet approach until 15 seconds or some other longer period of time has elapsed. Of course, smell of the food might keep the memory going, so place a portion of the food up on a table with a fan blowing across it. The whole room now smells of the food.
    You will note that your pet will want to continuously stare at the correct hiding place. If this seems to be the case, obstruct the view with a big box or chair.
  • What is your cat's favorite food?
    The last time I asked my cat: "What is your favorite food, Kitty?" It just looked blank at me as she only heard me say: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, Kitty!" You'll get the same reaction. So what can you do? You know that cats are generally cautious eaters. Some are downright finicky! BUT you are lucky to be able to use this "behavior" trait to help you answer the question about your cat's favorite food. Choose small amounts of two foods that you know Kitty will eat IF she is presented with only one at a time. Place a little of each food in side by side bowls. Which one will kitty eat first? Simple enough, right? (Next consider how cats hunted and ate before they were domesticated. Did they hunt alone or in groups? Did they eat fast or carefully? What other animals might want to steal their food? Were they able to protect their food? How do these answers fit in with how Kitty eats today?)
    In the previous experiment, Kitty had both bowls the same distance from her. Now put the two bowls at different distances away. Does she sniff each bowl first and then go to the favorite? Or does she merely eat everything in the first bowl she comes to?
  • What is your dog's favorite food?
    Finding the answer to this question for dogs is much more difficult than it is with cats. First run two small preliminary experiments on your dog. See what the results are, and then you will see what the problem is! What works with cats doesn't seem to work with dogs! Here are the two preliminary expertiments (be sure to use very SMALL amounts of food - or your dog will get "stuffed" and won't happily want to work with you):
    • The dog is tied up at the other side of the room and able to watch and smell what you are doing. Place a small amount of what you think is a favorite food in one bowl and another small amount of what you think is a not-so-favorite food in another bowl. Place the bowls about 3 feet apart. Release the dog, and see which food is eaten first. Do this experiment six or seven times but making sure that the food on the left is alternated with that on the right.
    • Again start with the dog tied up. This time place the small samples of food in bowls that are in line with the dog. One bowl is closer to the dog and the other further away. Do this several times, and record your results
    You should see some problems! Nothing seems to make sense! Sit down now and discuss this problem with your friends (collaborative experiments, you know!). Maybe you don't know your dog as well as you thought! Think about how dogs hunted and ate before they were domesticated. Did they hunt alone or in groups? Did they eat fast or carefully? What other animals might want to steal their food? Were they able to protect their food? How do these answers fit in with how Pooch acted in your preliminary experiments today?
    Experimental Design! That's the key in planning your dog experiment! Talk with your friends and teacher about how to do this experiment so that valid results arise. You'll have a lot of fun doing this. But don't get Pooch fat!

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Human Behavior

  • Gender Differences
    These experiments always perk young peoples' interests as the "gender wars" never cease! As suggestion for balance so that females win some and males win others is to check out old wives' tales such as "women are always lost" and "women have sharper noses." And then-, IF differences are found, the students might be asked: "Is this of any significance? Is there any selective advantage for this? Let's go back to 'caveman' days: would these differences have made any difference? Maybe the differences we see now in us humans have little value today - sort of "living fossil behavior!"
    • Gender difference in visual perception.
      It has long been known that the retina is an extension of the brain, and thus if one can find gender differences in visual perception, it is thus likely that there are other gender differences hidden inside our brains. A beginning investigation into visual perception is one on visual acuity. Later, you might modify that experiment into measuring the ability to see distant and slight motion, and the ability to tell from a distance whether one or two closely spaced objects are being shown (resolving power). Much of this deals with the anatomy and physiology of the retina (and hence the structure of a part of the [extended] brain.
    • Telling correct compass directions
      Better yet, find some tourists who are not all that familiar with the area. Do this on an overcast day so that sun direction cannot be determined. Ask the person to point in the direction of their out-of-state home. Check this out by using a map. Record the gender and age of the person and how many degrees off they were.
    • Gender versus olfactory accruity
      Firstly, this must be done outdoors so that odors can rapidly dissipate. Secondly, the participants are not told what they will be smelling. Thirdly, they must be asked to sniff the most dilute fragrance first and then work up to higher concentrations until they (a) think the smell something, and then (b) reach a concentration from which they can correctly identify the fragrance. Here are a few pairing of types of odors to check on:
      • chocolate versus pumpkin!
      • Odors of warning (butyric acid (rancid)) versus odors of attraction (vanilla, strawberry)
      • Odors of food versus odors of non-foods (flowers)
    • Gender versus flavor preferences
      This experiment is very similar to the above one on olfactory sense, only here the participants much taste things. Thus make sure that what they put on their tongues is safe for human consumption.
    • Gender vs distinguishing fat from low-fat foods
      Today there are a number of fat substitutes. Bake some cookies with "fat" or "non-fat" or buy potato chips made with both types.
    • Gender vs aggressive behavior: the glued quarter
      This is like Candid Camera! Use some epoxy or super glue to affix a quarter to some well-travelled spot. Once the glue has hardened, reveal the quarter, and see which gender of passerby works hardest trying to get the quarter.
  • Reaction rates
    The experimenter dangles a meter stick from its end. At the other end the participant is posed to catch it. Once the stick is dropped the participant catches it. Note the distance the meter stick has fallen. There are a number of variations on this:
    • Using sight: the subject sees the stick begin to fall and then grabs it
    • The subject has either an ice-chilled hand or a warm-water heated hand. Does the hand's temperature matter?
    • The participant's eyes are kept closed and the stick is dropped at the instant the experimenter taps them on the head (this requires the experimenter to practice a bit!). In this experiment, is the nerve distance the same as that when using the eyes? Is sight dominant over touch?
    • Again the subject's eyes are closed, and the "go" signal is a tap on the other hand. Now how long is the nerve pathway?
    • Two persons hold hands. The 'grabber's' eyes are closed, and all of the above 'goes' are given to the second person, who then squeezes or taps the grabber's hand.
    • Effect of smell on taste
      This is a really fun experiment. The subject's eyes are closed and a bottle of some fragrance is held to their nose (vanilla, banana, whatever), and then a particular type of candy is placed on their tongue. Can the tell you the flavor of the candy?
    • Taste discrimination
      Blindfolded subjects wearing bibs are asked to identify which flavor of 'jello' they are being fed. One group of college students who tried this out, came out with a most surprising answer part of the time: "I am tasting something red!"
    • Candy preferences versus age
      A startling finding was made among freshmen college students. Let's see how this would work on younger students: Have two bowls of candy - one with little chocolates and the other with hard sugar candy. Pretend that you have had a party, and these are the leftovers (You don't want them to know prior to their choice what you are doing, otherwise the "subjects" will think too much!) Tell the students they may have only one piece of candy, which they may choose. Tally which type girls take and which type boys take. Also keep track of their approximate ages. Try your teachers, too! Might just as well be polite, and make them part of your study also. You will develop a wonderful set of data that can be "number-crunched" for a mathematics lesson of fundamental statistics and even a lesson in mathematical significance.
    • Kids' favorite fruits.
      Cut up various types of fruit into small cubes and place them all on a dish. Give each classmate a toothpick and tell them that they may each have ONE piece of fruit. Have a friend stand nearby and keep score: which type of fruit was chosen and what was the gender of the student. Can you find any correlations at all? Whatever the results, remember that they are results. The question then becomes, "can YOU understand the results." As a hint, you sneaked a piece of the fruit for sure, didn't you?! Ask yourself why you took that one and not one of the others first?
  • Quick thinking!
    Have you ever wondered how birds can move a great speed through the branches of a tree without hitting anything? Bats are known to be able to fly between the rotating blades of a house fan. Were we to try to do such feats of agility and fast thinking, we would bash ourselves to death. We humans have a hard enough time driving down the road at 35 mph then seeing a friend who is walking and getting our hand out to wave before we have passed them by. So frustrating is our slowness! What do birds and bats have that we humans don't have? How can their minds work so fast?! Let me ask all you whizzes another question: Why are computer engineers so interested in making computer chips smaller and smaller. One main reason is that if the chip is half the size it will take electricity only half as long to do its work on that smaller chip. What are the dimensions of your brain? Get out ruler and roughly measure the dimensions of your partner's head, and then subtract perhaps 4 cm for the skull and other "packaging" materials on both sides of that brain. Next "guesstimate" the size of a swallow's brain. How many times faster can a swallow think than can a human? Yes, MUCH faster!
    But this is only an hypothesis. How can it be tested that the larger the brain the slower the decision-making process is? Maybe you need to get a collection of brains - living brains of different sizes - small birds, bigger birds, mice, rats, your own, that of a cow or horse, and don't forget to add a whale to your collection! Then somehow you have to devise a stimulus that will result in a response. Thirdly, you must be able to measure the time elapsed between the application of the stimulous and the first expression of the result. Soooo, science gang members, put together some ideas and let me know what you are thinking!

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