Animal Ethograms

Scientists use many different types of tools when doing research.

For example, when making observations, they may use a microscope to see small things up close, a scale to measure weight, or a thermometer to determine changes in temperature.

At Denver Zoo, animal care staff sometimes use a tool called an ethogram to help them study animal behavior. Understanding animal behavior is important, so keepers and veterinarians know when an animal is happy and healthy, and recognize signs when it may not be feeling well.

How to use an ethogram

Learn how to use an ethogram from Caitlin, a Denver Zoo Educator, and then do your OWN research to learn more about our newest greater one-horned rhino, Joona!


Wondering how to incorporate this into a virtual lesson?

Program Summary:

Learners will practice science observation skills in the study of animal behavior, using an ethogram. Learners will discover how this tool helps Denver Zoo animal care staff to monitor the well-being of animals.

Guiding Question:

How does Denver Zoo ensure the health and well-being of the animals in its care?

Intended Outcomes:

Learners will:

  • Feel - Interest in using scientific observation to observe animal behavior.
  • Learn - Tools like an ethogram help scientists study animal behavior and gain insight on how animals are feeling physically and emotionally.
  • Act - Make connections between animal behavior and animal well-being.

Intended Experiences:

  • Learners will:
  • Make and record observations
  • Ask questions
  • Find connections

Note: This activity may be modified for younger audiences by removing the interval component. Use this simplified ethogram datasheet to collect all observations for a total of 3 minutes.

Try it!

Observe and record data using an ethogram.


1. Make Observations:

Observe Joona in the video below. At 30 second intervals, make a tally mark in the column of the behavior Joona’s doing at that moment. Continue to observe and record behaviors on the ethogram for 3 minutes.

2. Analyze Data:

Review your research; count the total number of tally marks in each behavior column. What do you notice about the animal’s behavior?

Virtual Classroom Think About It!
  • What behaviors did you observe most frequently?  What behaviors did you observe least frequently?  Why do you think that is? 
  • What story does your data tell about the animal?  What conclusions can you make about the animal’s behavior from your observations? 
  • How do you think the animal’s behavior would be different if you observed the animal at a different time of day?  What if the animal was observed in its alternate exhibit space?   
  • Having observed the animal, what do you wonder about the animal?  What new questions do you have about the animal’s behavior?  

This activity can be simplified for younger audiences by removing the interval component.  Use this simplified ethogram datasheet to collect observations for 3 minutes. 

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