Evolution of animal behavior

The exhibition tells about the development of animal behavior, its value for survival and evolution. Instincts, learning, and elementary rational activity closely interact with each other; their role in shaping the behavior depends on the level of organization of the nervous system. The study of animal behavior helps us to understand the biological roots of our own mind and the relation of congenital and acquired human behavior.

Modern science that studies the biological basis of animal behavior is called Ethology. This modern discipline developed with the work of the Nobel Prize laureates Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) and Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1989). Their research tried to answer the following questions: how a behavioral act is formed, what its value for survival and how it evolved. Currently, not only biologists and psychologists are interested in Ethology but also sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and linguists.

The exposition tells about the structure of the nervous system of various species, the inheritance pattern of behavioral responses, the role of instincts, learning and rational activities in shaping the behavior of animals which stand on different levels of the organization.

One of the basic aspects of behavior is communication, i.e. the transmission of information from one animal to another by means of special signals. The source of information may be an animal odor, audio signals, certain poses, and facial expressions.

There can be found similarities between communication of animals and the communicative behavior of a people. Although the human language and intellect are much more complex than communication and cognitive abilities of animals, there is still no clear answer on whether there is a qualitative difference between animals and human communication. Undoubtedly, "the evolution of elementary rational activity of human ancestors took a very long time, before giving a truly gigantic flash of the human mind" (L.V. Krushinsky).

This showcase is dedicated to the questions of classic Ethology, the structure and mechanisms of behavior. Life activity of most animals is based on their innate instinctive behavior. It occurs in response to certain stimulation. Instincts give an animal a set of ready adaptive reactions.

Behavioral genetics. Caring for offspring

The exhibits in the showcase present the results of experiments on the inheritance of instinctive behavior in different animals. Instincts are fixed by natural selection and transmitted genetically from generation to generation. Special attention is paid to the evolutionary scenario of care for the offspring from complete indifference to the fate of the younger generation to care for the kids. Special attention is given to the evolutionary scenario of caring for offspring, from complete indifference to gentle care.


Life in a family, pack or herd is impossible without information exchange, i.e. communication. Information can be transferred by the animal odors and sounds as well as facial expressions, and certain poses. Each species has its own “dictionary” for communicating with partners. But there is a universal interspecies language. Particular signals of threat, anxiety or peace are usually understood by most species.

Expressing emotions: chimpanzees and humans

The showcase is dedicated to unique researches undertaken in 1913-1915 in the State Darwin Museum. The Doctor of Biological Sciences and co-founder of the Museum Nadezhda Nikolaevna Ladygina-Kohts was interested in similarities and differences of the gestures and sounds language among humans and apes. The results of her comparative research and experiments on her own son Rudolph and a baby chimp named Yoni were published in the scientific work “Infant chimpanzee and human child in their games, habits and expressive movements” (1935).


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