Instinct or environment! Instinct or Environment?
Teacher Site Map
5th Grade Core
USOE Science Home Page

Instinct or Environment?

On the Hand It To My Parents web page, you learned that traits are inherited characteristics. Some traits are not. Some traits are learned.

Do you know a dog that knows how to beg? Did the dog inherit that trait? Or did the dog learn the trait? Dogs learn tricks, like begging, shaking hands or playing dead. Doing tricks is a learned trait, not an inherited trait.

Do you know how to ride a bike? Riding a bicycle is a learned trait, NOT an inherited trait. You were not born knowing how to ride a bike.

Some traits are instinct. Instinct is something that a species does naturally. It is NOT learned. For example, salmon leave the ocean and returns to rivers and swim up them to lay their eggs. They do not learn to do this. They do it naturally.

Some traits occur because of the environment. Environment is the surroundings in which you live. Organisms develop some traits because of their environment.

A fifth grade student living in the Andes Mountains of Peru may have a larger lung capacity than a fifth grade student living near sea level in southern California.  To adapt to the high altitudes, people living at higher altitudes often have larger lung capacities than those who live at lower altitudes.


Think about it!

Look at the tree in the picture at the right. What caused it to grow sideways instead of straight up? Growing sideways is NOT an inherited trait in this tree. It is not learned. It is not instinct. It grows sideways because of its environment. The wind blows constantly where it lives. The wind caused the tree to grow sideways.


Look closely at the tree above. What traits does this plant have? As you observe it, you should be able to find at least three characteristics that help it survive near the Grand Canyon.



Quick review:

Can you determine which of the following behaviors are learned and which behaviors are instinct?

Remember that an instinct is a behavior with which an organism is born. A learned behavior helps the organism to be successful in the environment.

Drag to select your answer for each of the following.

  1. A cat purrs.
  2. A tree bends in the direction that the wind blows.
  3. A parrot talks like a human.
  4. Birds migrate south in the winter
  5. A child speaks Spanish
  6. Lizards sun themselves on rocks
  7. Dogs like to eat meat
  8. A chicken rings a bell for seed
  9. Squirrels store food for winter.
  10. Beavers build dams.

Check your answers by highlighting the box below.

1. Instinct 2. Instinct 3. Learned 4. Instinct 5. Learned
6. Instinct 7. Instinct 8. Learned 9. Instinct 10. Instinct


Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader , and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.
Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 5th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

Science Home Page | Curriculum Home Page | 5th Science Core Home Page | USOE Home Page

Copyright Utah State Office of Education.