Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fixed Action Patterns

There is something so fascinating about the complexity and variance of fixed action patterns across species. FAP’s exist in just about every species from the single-celled amoebas to giant humpback whales. Many species display unique mating rituals that are considered fixed action patterns. For example, seabirds like the Blue Footed Booby of the Galapagos Islands performs a strange dance in which the males show off the blue pigmentation of their feet to attract a female (the sign stimulus).  The Albatross sea birds also display a unique, species specific mating dance:

One of the most complex forms of communication through fixed actions patterns exists among the honeybees. Honeybee colonies have with specialized workers, one of which is the forager. Forager honeybees travel away from the hive, up to half a mile, in search of nectar and pollen. When they find flowers with these food sources, they travel back to the hive and tell the rest of the bees where to find the flowers. The way that they communicate this information is an amazing adaptation. Honeybees have terrible vision so they cannot use landmarks to communicate. Rather they have developed a language based on solar direction and distance. The foragers wiggle repeatedly at a specific angle relative to the sun and the amount of wiggles has been found to represent a specific distance.

Besides mating rituals and communication, fixed action patterns also serve as defense mechanisms. A few commonly known defense mechanisms are the opossums’ “playing dead” move, a skunk’s ability to spray a foul odor, or a lizard’s ability to detach its own tail. However, species of all kinds have adapted unique and unthinkable defense mechanisms. For example, when a horned lizard is attacked, it will pressurize its own sinus cavities until the blood vessels in its eyes burst and spray its attacker with blood. Malaysian ants have poisonous glands on both sides of their abdomen and if they are about to lose a battle, they will actually get close to their enemy and contract their enemy until they explode themselves like a suicide bomber. 


  1. Wow this is so interesting! I was unaware of the mating rituals between animals. I really enjoyed watching your videos too!

  2. I found this to be very interesting, its amazing how animals just know these behaviors by instinct seeing that some of them are very complex and creative.