ETHOLOGY AND THE
Robert D. Goldney
Ethology is the biological study of behaviour in natural settings. It was developed by Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz and Nikko Tinbergen and some of its basic concepts have entered our language. These include “imprinting”, a specific form of learning which occurs early in life, and which is only possible at a “critical period”, a “fixed action pattern” which is a pre-determined behavioural pattern which is initiated by a specific “innate releasing mechanism”, and “displacement activity”, a form of behaviour which appears unrelated to other activity.
It may initially appear paradoxical to seek ethological analogies in regard to the suicidal process, as by implication ethology suggests an appropriate adaptation to external demands. However, that is not always the case, and biologists have used terminology to describe behaviour, which is, at the very least, self-injurious in a number of different species. For example, it has been recorded in macaques, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, leopards, lions, jackals, hyenas, rodents and opossums (Jones, 1982), as well as in dolphins, pink bollworm moths, butterflies, pea aphids, birds and some bacteria (Lester and Goldney, 1997). Indeed, it is not only in the last few decades that such observations have been made, as “The suicide of animals” was well documented by Westcott (1885) over a hundred years ago. Therefore there appears