Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Three Musketeers

Everyone has a hero.... a person that you look up to, admire, and want to be like. Scientists of course are no different, we've got heroes too.... you just might not recognize their names.

To those of you who read our very first blog post way back in January, the names Tinbergen, Frisch, and Lorenz might ring a bell. These three guys were geniuses in the world of animal behavior. I'd like to let the readers know a bit about the three fathers of ethology. These guys founded ideas and made discoveries that I guarantee almost everyone knows about, but most people don't know where those ideas came from.

Dear reader, I would like to introduce you to Nikolaas Tinbergen. He is the one who cemented the four main questions a person should ask when studying animal behavior. Let's say, for example, you are watching your dog chase his own tail. Let's also say you are really bored and want to delve deeper into this behavior. You ask yourself these questions: What caused my dog to chase his tail? Has my dog chased his tail since he was a puppy, and will he stop as he gets older? Do other animals chase their tails? Does this affect my dog's chances of survival? Voila! You have just become an ethologist. That's right, if you have ever questioned the behavior of an animal and considered the answers to those questions, you thought scientifically. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone, I know you have a reputation to protect.

Have you ever wondered why bees are so crazy? Well so did Karl von Frisch. Frisch worked with honeybees and carried out research on bee behavior. I'd be willing to bet that you know that bees often perform little dances in order to communicate. (If you didn't, well now you know. And knowing is half the battle...) We have Frisch to thank for our knowledge on bees and for the studies on other social insects that stemmed from his research. And yes, he is wearing lederhosen in this picture. He was Austrian, therefore that choice in clothing is acceptable.

And last, but certainly not least, I'd like to introduce you to Konrad Lorenz. I'm going to go ahead and assume that most people have heard of imprinting. (Thanks, Twilight books) The idea that types of learning, such as identifying a parent, can be automatic at a young age can be attributed to Lorenz. He even experimented by having baby geese imprint on him as their mother figure. As a result, the geese followed him around as though he were their mother, despite the fact that he was of a completely different species. His research and his books are truly fascinating.

Forms of science are every where in daily life. We have people like Tinbergen, Frisch, and Lorenz to thank for information we have come to take for granted. It just goes to show that people do not need to be superheroes to make a difference. You don't need to be a musketeer to fight for the King of France. Is that inspiring enough for you?


  1. These three are my scientific idols, as well ;-)

  2. It's always nice to hear from scientists outside our little circle at school. Thanks for stopping by!