Welcome Back to School
Learning vs. Instinct
Our lives take a turn in the fall. Across the north, summer's
long days shorten rapidly and temperatures drop. Meanwhile, millions of
children return to school. Their year will be spent learning
the skills they will need during their long human lives. At
the same time, the monarch butterfly's annual migration to Mexico is underway.
The butterflies are born knowing everything they need to survive, and
we look on with wonder.
Karen Oberhauser has been learning about monarchs for over 20 years!
An “instinct” is an inborn pattern of behavior. It is something
an animal can do without having to learn.
Takes Time But Has Advantages
“Unlike humans, insects don't have to learn much,” says Dr.
Karen Oberhauser. “They are genetically programmed to do things
like fly, find food, and migrate (in the case of monarchs).
some ways, this sounds like a great thing. However, there isn't as much
flexibility in behavior for organisms that depend on instinct. We need
to learn how to talk, walk, read, etc, but think of the flexibility we
have in determining what we do with our lives. Insects don't have that.”
Instinct Examples: Monarchs Are Born Knowing How to...
As you learn about monarchs, keep a list of everything monarchs are born
knowing how to do. For fun, compare the age at which humans learn to do
the same kinds of things. Record all of your examples on this chart.
Do People Have Instincts? Interview a Human Parent
Do parents teach their babies to smile, or do babies smile by instinct?
Do parents teach them to roll over, crawl, sit, stand or walk—or
do babies do any of these things by instinct? Interview a parent about
a baby they watched to develop. (Maybe the baby was you!) Record the dates
each of the events below occurred for the first time;
What Does Dr. Oberhauser Mean?
As a class, discuss what Dr. Oberhauser means when she says that insects
lack flexibility in their behavior. As you learn about monarchs
this year, watch for advantages and disadvantages of this inflexibile
behavior. Why does it make monarch conservation challenging? How does
it help us to conserve monarchs?
Science Education Standards
have basic needs.
is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental
stimulus. Behavioral response is determined in part by heredity and
in part from experience.