Animal Behavior Course - Description

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Chiricahua Mountains

Course Description

The study of animal behavior is by nature interdisciplinary - crossing the boundaries between Biology, Psychology, Anthropology and Sociology. An understanding of the behavior of diverse species contributes both to our appreciation of human evolution, and to our ability to preserve biological diversity through conservation.

This 10-day Animal Behavior Field Course is being offered at the Southwestern Research Station, located in The Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. 

Course For 2018

According to Conservation International, the sky islands of southern Arizona (which include the Chiricahua Mountains) contain some of the richest reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth (see chart blow). It is this outstanding biodiversity that attracts scientists (and their students) from all over the world. During this intensive field course, we will focus on the behavior of a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate species. 


Our studies will include:

1. The Adaptability Of Behavior - color and odor preferences in the selection of nectar sources by hummingbirds.

2. Population Dynamics - the size of territory in harvester ants as a function of colony density.

3. Communication - the evolution of visual displays in iguanid lizards.

4. Social Behavior - orientation and communication in slave-making ants.

5. Mating Behavior - The role of auditory signals in mating behavior of spadefoot toads.

6. Chemical orientation in three species of lizards: the role of Jacobson's organ.

7.Visual learning in feeding behavior of Mexican jays

8. Orientation behavior of ant lions

The course will include daily multimedia lectures. Although most of the course will be devoted to class and small-group projects, we also participate in research being conducted by scientists at the Research Station. In addition, we attend evening seminars given by Station scientists. Indeed, it is the presence of so many scientists (and their students) from around the world that makes this field course so unique!

Participants: The Animal Behavior Course is designed for: undergraduate and graduate students; teachers; professors; museum and zoo docents, environmental professionals, or anyone who enjoys observing and understanding the behavior of animals in their natural habitat. The course is  limited to 15 participants.


Dr. Howard Topoff, Professor Emeritus of Biopsychology at the City University of New York. Dr. Topoff has been conducting field research on insect social behavior at the Southwestern Research Station for over 40 years.

Dr. Bonnie Bowen, Adjunct Assistant Professor (Retired), Departmnt of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University. Dr. Bowen’s field research  focused on the behavior and genetics of communally breeding Mexican jays in southeastern Arizona and Groove-billed anis in Costa Rica.

Cost: $1,020 per person for 10 nights. This includes course tuition ($350) as well as room and 3 meals each day at the Research Station ($670).

Please apply (via e-mail or snail mail) to:

Dr. Howard Topoff - P.O. Box 16366 - Portal, AZ 8563

Your application should contain your contact information and a brief statement of your interest in this course.

Southwestern Research Station Cancellation Policy 

With 30 days notice before the course begins, all fees will be refunded, less a $20 cancellation fee.  With less than 30 days notice, none of your fees will be refunded unless we are able to replace you in the course with another participant.  If we find a replacement, all your fees will be refunded, less a $20 cancellation fee.