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Zoology: Understanding the Animal World

Zoology: Understanding the Animal World

Senior Science Advisor Donald E. Moore III, Ph.D.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

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Zoology: Understanding the Animal World

In partnership with
Senior Science Advisor Donald E. Moore III, Ph.D.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
Share This Course
3.8 out of 5
12 Reviews
58% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1266
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn how different animal species evolved over time to adapt to specific environmental challenges.
  • Investigate the parenting styles of different animal species, from crocodiles to golden lion tamarins.
  • Get a close look at how zoologists study the behavior of different animal species, from rats to primates.
  • Make connections and discover the relationships between species on the phylogenic "tree of life."
  • Explore how reproductive scientists are helping to save species like pandas and cheetahs from extinction.

Course Overview

For young and old alike, zoos are one of the most popular places to visit. Each year, over 185 million people visit accredited zoos and aquariums throughout the United States for close encounters with some of the most adorable, exotic, and strange animals on our planet.

Chief among these zoos is the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. The overarching goal of this remarkable modern zoo is to educate everyday people about the astonishing range of animal species: how they live, how they develop, and how they impact the world. Thousands flock to this beautiful zoo every day to visit animals they’ve never before seen and, often, never knew existed.

Helping the average visitor navigate this exciting world are zoologists, the hard-working scientists whose research in areas like animal intelligence, ecology, behavior, and conservation are helping us make better sense of the animal world, from mosquitos and monarch butterflies to polar bears and great white sharks. Much of what we know—and are currently learning—about animals is thanks to the scientific field of zoology.

As much as we love an informative trip to the zoo, the truth is that you can’t learn everything there is to know about animals with the occasional visit. But by exploring zoology and the tireless work of zoologists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo—and other zoological parks and aquariums across the country—you’ll find your next trip to the zoo more rewarding, more enriching, and much more satisfying.

In Zoology: Understanding the Animal World, The Great Courses teams up with the Smithsonian, the acknowledged leader in animal research, conservation, and education, to bring you 24 visually rich lectures that take you behind the scenes of not only the animal world but of the scientists trying to understand how it works. Dr. Donald E. Moore III—director of the Oregon Zoo and senior science advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo—has crafted a wonderful introduction to the fundamentals of zoology through the eyes of a trained zoologist, bringing you up close and personal with a breathtaking variety of animal species: crocodiles, birds of prey, lions, dolphins, giant pandas, elephants, and more. Packed with exclusive footage from zoos, research parks, and animals in their natural habitats, as well as interviews with other Smithsonian scientists, these lectures will reveal the hidden world of animals in a way no textbook could ever hope to do.

Learn What Zoologists Do

According to Professor Moore, zoologists do a lot more than tend animals for the zoo.

“Modern zoological research is discovering subtle but important differences between species that aren’t necessarily apparent to the naked eye,” he says at the start of Zoology. “While most of the time, the public sees a zoo as an entertaining and educational way to spend a Saturday afternoon (and it very much is), your average accredited zoo is also a vital part of research and conservation activities going on across the world.”

To make this scientific field a little more manageable to grasp, and to guide your learning in a way that builds upon insights, Professor Moore has organized the lectures into three general sections.

  • Start with the basics of zoology. Topics include the intriguing relationship between genetics and environment, sexual behaviors in different animal groups, parenting styles and their evolutionary importance, and the role conservation plays in our current research into the animal kingdom.
  • Dive into the different orders of life on our planet. It’s a colorful tour that takes you from the ocean depths to the highest tree tops and reveals the characteristics of different animal orders (invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mammals) as well as the astounding diversity within them.
  • Investigate special subjects intriguing today’s zoologists. How do animals interact with their environments and with one another (including human beings)? How do we study animal intelligence, and can animals think? What diseases threaten animals in the wild and in zoos? How can we ensure the survival of endangered species?

Meet Incredible Animals

Of course, the most fascinating part of Zoology: the animals themselves. Each of Professor Moore’s lectures features some of most incredible animals on Earth. And thanks to the special footage from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and others, you’ll be able to see these and other animals in action—without the crowds. Not only this, but you will see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage only available in this course, including a sneak peek at a baby giant panda filmed months before the first public viewing. Just a few of the animals you will meet include:

  • Golden lion tamarins. One of the most amazing examples of unique parental care in mammals, golden lion tamarin family groups benefit from sub-adult helpers that act as “teenager” babysitters. This behavior also helps these “teenagers” become better parents when they have babies of their own.
  • Corals. Important ocean resources, corals are the basis of an entire ecosystem—and they’re also a resource to human beings. Home to worms, conchs, spiny lobsters, fish, and more, the world’s vibrant and multi-colored coral reefs surpass even tropical rainforests in their levels of biodiversity.
  • Crocodiles. Unlike most other non-avian reptiles, crocodiles provide extensive maternal care. A mother crocodile can hear the vocalizations from her hatching young and will actually open the nest to help them emerge more easily. She’ll then guard her young for up to two years after hatching.
  • Giant Pandas. Normally, zoologists expect an animal’s diet to reflect its physiology, and vice versa. Not so with giant pandas, which are one of the most inefficient feeders on the planet. These animals have the physiology of a carnivore, but they eat a diet made almost entirely of tough, woody bamboo.
  • Mosquitos. The lowly mosquito is considered the deadliest animal on Earth. According to research by the World Health Organization, mosquitos spread diseases—such as malaria, West Nile virus, yellow fever, and dengue fever—that kill more than 2.5 million people each year.

You’ll also learn a host of other interesting facts about what zoologists now know of animal life. Did you know that biological outcomes like the average time until reproduction all scale to body mass? So, for example, a half-ounce mouse can have five or 10 litters of babies each year, while a five-ton elephant can only have one baby every five or so years.

In fact, you may be surprised to discover some things you thought you knew. Many people believe birds live in nests, however, this is mostly a myth. A bird creates a nest solely for the purpose of laying and hatching eggs. A larger, more ornate structure called a bower is designed to attract a mate for the unique bower birds (the avian equivalent of flowers and chocolate).

And what can learning about other animals tell us about humans? Well, for one thing human beings have one of the most dilute milks of all mammals, with low percentages of milk proteins and fat. In fact, dairy cow milk is fairly similar to our own, which is probably one of the reasons many of us can digest it. These are just a few of the amazing things zoology has to teach us.

Can’t-Miss Footage and Interviews

Dr. Moore has spent nearly 40 years as a zoo director and conservation biologist interacting with a plethora of animals. He brings these decades of experience in—and passion for—the animal kingdom to every lecture in Zoology.

Along with the animals and the exclusive, can’t-miss footage of zoo life, this course also takes you inside laboratories and research centers for interviews with other Smithsonian scientists. Their stories and insights will add additional layers to your understanding of cheetahs, pollinators, species conservation, and so much more.

It’s a wide, wild world out there. And with this engaging and informative series, you’ll be better equipped to get out there and discover the wonders that live in it, whether they’re in your local zoo, aquarium, a national park, or right in your own backyard.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    What Do Zoologists Do?
    Get a solid foundation for all the terms and concepts you'll encounter throughout this course. Discover what zoologists do (it's much more than running zoos), take a close look at the phylogenic tree (the tree of life), and examine the definition of terms like species, natural selection, and conservation. x
  • 2
    Animal Reproduction: Genes and Environment
    In this lecture, explore the diversity of reproductive biology and sex in the animal kingdom. Along the way, you'll cover topics including asexual and sexual reproduction, sexual behaviors in different animal groups, and some of the strangest sexual behavior in the animal kingdom: reproduction outside an animal's body. x
  • 3
    Mammal Reproduction: Pandas and Cheetahs
    One goal of zoology is to help save the world's endangered species by ensuring their ability to reproduce. Here, Dr. Moore, along with insights from two research biologists, reveals how reproductive scientists are working to help save giant pandas and cheetahs from extinction. x
  • 4
    How Animals Raise Their Young
    Why is parenting so essential to a species' survival? Why do some animals have different parenting styles? Here, explore different parenting styles in everything from corals to salmon to humans. Then, encounter one of the most unique examples of parental care in mammals: the golden lion tamarin. x
  • 5
    Helpful Corals, Clams, and Crustaceans
    Marine invertebrates are some of the most economically important animals on the planet. Learn more about them in this lecture on invertebrate “good guys” including mollusks (the largest phylum of marine animals), blue crabs, the American lobster, and corals (which surpass tropical rainforests in their levels of biodiversity). x
  • 6
    Bees, Butterflies, and Saving Biodiversity
    There are more than 1 million species of insects on our planet—over half of all known extant species. In this lecture, explore adaptations of some of the most important insects on our planet, including ants, bees, and butterflies. Also, focus on key conservation issues like colony collapse and pollinator conservation. x
  • 7
    Deadly Invertebrates: Vectors and Parasites
    Mosquitos, biting flies, internal parasites—what are the real effects of these invertebrates on humans? Why are they so important to our planet? What makes mosquitos the deadliest animals on Earth? How do zoologists classify the parasites that infect humans? What happens in a zoo’s veterinary pathology department? x
  • 8
    Bony Fish, Skates, Sharks, and Rays
    Here, Dr. Moore offers an up-close encounter with some of the most interesting animals on our planet: fishes. You'll examine the specific conservation needs of rays, sharks, and bony fishes; learn how fishes achieve buoyancy and how their gills work; explore how fishes adapt to cold, salty waters; and more. x
  • 9
    Amphibians, Metamorphosis, and Ecology
    About 350 million years ago, large amphibians were Earth's most abundant species. Now, their future may be in jeopardy. Join Dr. Moore and a biologist from the Smithsonian's National Zoo for an eye-opening lecture on amphibian biology and diversity and the ways we can help salamanders, frogs, and other species thrive. x
  • 10
    Reptiles: Adaptations for Living on Land
    Reptiles combine primitive, advanced, generalized, and specialized adaptations for life on earth. First, examine the characteristics reptiles share with birds. Then, examine fascinating reptilian adaptations like parthenogenesis and temperature-dependent sex determination. Finally, learn ways you can help reptiles like snakes, turtles, lizards, and crocodilians survive. x
  • 11
    Beaks, Claws, and Eating like a Bird
    From kingfishers to penguins to vultures, dive into the science of ornithology, the study of our planet's birds. Along the way, you'll encounter topics like the amazing adaptations of bills; the evolution of birds of prey; and the relationship between shorebird migration and the egg-laying season for horseshoe crabs. x
  • 12
    Form and Function: Bird Nests and Eggs
    Variations in bird reproduction allow birds to survive everywhere from rainforest canopies to Antarctica. Explore the intricacies of bird breeding, nesting, and chick-raising adaptations. Topics include mating behavior, nest formation, the ways chicks are built to survive, and ways we can help birds thrive on our planet. x
  • 13
    Taking to the Sky: Bird Migration
    One of the most interesting events in the animal kingdom is bird migration by flight. What are the physics of bird flight? Why have some of the world’s most interesting birds—like penguins and ostriches—lost the ability to fly? Do wings serve a purpose other than flight? Find out here. x
  • 14
    What Makes a Mammal: Hair, Milk, and Teeth
    Today, there are more than 5,000 species of mammals assembled in 26 orders and dozens of families. In the first of several lectures on mammalian life, investigate the two traits that make mammals unique from other animals: hair and milk. (And yes, even dolphins possess some form of hair!) x
  • 15
    Herbivore Mammals: Ruminants and Runners
    Focus now on two types of herbivorous mammals. The first are ruminants: animals like cows and camels who rely on foregut fermentation and four-chambered stomachs to digest plants. The second are runners like horses and oryx, who've developed musculoskeletal adaptations to help them jump and escape predators. x
  • 16
    Carnivore Mammals: Feline, Canine, and Ursine
    Turn now from herbivores to carnivores like lions, tigers, bears, wolves, cats, and dogs. Among the many insights you'll learn are the different ways carnivores evolved to walk and capture prey, as well as their evolutionary history, which stretches back to tree-dwelling animals that lived 50 and 60 million years ago. x
  • 17
    Primate Mammals: Diverse Forest Dwellers
    Gain a greater appreciation for the characteristics of primates: their longer lifespans, omnivorous diets, larger brains, and (the only trait they all have in common), inner ears. To get a better sense of primate diversity, you'll focus on a New World monkey (the golden lion tamarin) and a great ape (the gorilla). x
  • 18
    Size, Structure, and Metabolism
    Explore how an animal’s size helps it thrive. Look at allometric scaling (which helps explain diverse characteristics, like why smaller animals like mice have faster breathing and heart rates than the enormous elephant), why invertebrates are much smaller on average than vertebrates, and how bioenergetics—how animals obtain and use fuel—helps us understand animal survival. x
  • 19
    Protection, Support, and Homeostasis
    From jellyfish to sea lions, every animal on Earth has solved the challenges of movement, protection, and homeostasis in its own way. Dr. Moore covers the diversity of adaptations that animals have developed, including scales, feathers, hair, beaks, horns, and different skeletal structures (axial and appendicular). x
  • 20
    Animal Energetics and the Giant Panda Problem
    Every living thing gets its energy in one of three ways: as a producer, a consumer, or a decomposer. Central to this lecture on animal energetics (including metabolism and digestion) is the giant panda, whose carnivorous physiology and plant-based diet make it one of the most inefficient feeders on our planet. x
  • 21
    Ethology: Studying Animal Behavior
    How do zoologists study animal behavior? How does it help them become better caretakers and conservationists? First, examine how the modern approach to studying animal behavior emerged. Then, learn how objective behavioral studies in natural conditions work. Finally, explore Dr. Moore's own observations of the Pampas deer of South America. x
  • 22
    Think! How Intelligent Are Animals?
    Zoologists study animal intelligence using a combination of ethology, psychology, and neuroscience. In this lecture, look at the behavior of different animals—the use of tools by animals as diverse as otters and elephants, social learning in primates and dolphins, the famous story of a “counting” horse—to determine whether or not animals think. x
  • 23
    Combating Disease in the Animal Kingdom
    Around 75% of new or emerging infectious human diseases are spread from animals. Examine zoonotic diseases, which are spread between humans and animals and caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Also, consider how diseases (like canine distemper virus) threaten animals in zoos and in nature. x
  • 24
    Animal Futures: Frontiers in Zoology
    Every day, zoologists around the world are asked questions about the future of animal species. What’s the biggest threat to wildlife? Why are scientists freezing animal tissues? Why do we still know so little about animal life? Have there been successes in conservation? In this “FAQ”-style lecture, get some answers. x

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Your professor

Donald E. Moore III

About Your Professor

Donald E. Moore III, Ph.D.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
Dr. Donald E. Moore III, director of the Oregon Zoo and senior science advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, is a conservation biologist with nearly 40 years of experience in wildlife conservation, animal welfare, and zoo management. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Zoology and a doctoral degree in Conservation Biology from the State University of New York...
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Zoology: Understanding the Animal World is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 12.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course with a few shortcomings I have always been fascinated by animals and have spent a large and happy part of my childhood searching for and studying snakes in the Judean desert. I have read far and wide on the topic and I even considered taking up zoology as my academic field of study before I became interested in physics and decided to pursue that. I have never, however, taken a formal academic course on the subject and was therefore quite interested to see if there would be much knowledge to be had in such a course that I did not already have. The photograph of the course on TGC website gave a first hint of one of the different perspectives that the course offers in contrast to, say, some of the Attenborough BBC nature series: it shows a Cheetah in the foreground; but strikingly, one can fuzzily make out the fence of its enclosure. In most nature series the animals are discussed as if they live in a pristine world in which humans do not exist, and their biological traits are similarly discussed. In the current course, one of the most central themes is how humans are impacting animal populations by illegal poaching, habitat takeover, pet trade, and pollution; and what actions research scientists and conservation organizations are taking to fight back the tendency towards mass extinction that defines our age. Not a happy subject, but certainly an important and urgent one. Much of the discussion about the general taxonomy and basic biological traits of the animals was not new to me. I was also disappointed that the usual suspects - birds and especially mammals – received a disproportionate time for discussion. I was much more interested to learn about the traits of invertebrates of which I know much less… Having said this, the course provided a lot of new insights on what kind of research zoologists and conservationists carry out on a day to day basis, and particularly, what kind of research is employed to facilitate reintroduction of critically endangered species to the wild. The course included many interviews with researchers, and I found these to be extremely insightful, valuable, and absolutely fascinating. Among my favorites were the discussions concerning the challenges of researching coral sexual reproductin, the unsuitability of the Giant panda’s digestive tract and microflora for digesting Bamboo, the challnges of training balck footed Ferrets for predator avoidance prior to their release, and the method of analyzing the health and reproductive state of wild specimens through analysis of their feces and urine – providing an easy and non-invasive mechanism of research as opposed to the current gold standard, which is blood testing. The lecturer posed one central question many times: why should we care if animals go extinct? One point that struck me as odd, was that when answering the question, the lecturer always stressed as the central point that animals are beneficial to humans in many ways: economically, as pets and so forth. I would have thought that the first answer should be that the world would simply be a poorer place if many of its most charming inhabitants were to go extinct, especially since it is our own species that is the culprit responsible for this calamity. I would have used the fact that animals are beneficial to humans only to convince those who stubbornly declined to find the first answer compelling… Another point that was odd, (in fact down-right annoying), was that one could easily have been led to think after hearing the course, that the Smithsonian and the National Zoo are virtually the only research institutes on the face of the Earth that carry out important zoological and conservation research. It is research carried out by the Smithsonian and at the National zoo that is almost invariably referenced and discussed. On top of that, the names Smithsonian and National Zoo are repeated endlessly throughout the lectures as if the course has the agenda of a TV commercial and is trying to implant the Smithsonian name in our subconscious minds. This is an extremely biased approach for a course that professes to teach general zoology. Overall the course did provide for me some new insights, some of them quite fascinating and important. Although I found some of its aspects strange and even a bit annoying, the course was still easily worth the time and effort even considering its shortcomings. As for the lecturer – I found him to be well organized and clear, but not particularly thrilling or entertaining in any way. This course seems to be following a trend in TGC over the latest period of beefing up its biology course offering – a trend I personally find extremely welcome.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Partnership with Smithsonian produces dull course This disappointing course shows the downside of the Great Courses' partnership with the Smithsonian. Rather than going with an award-winning professor, they allowed a Smithsonian "senior science advisor" and Oregon Zoo director to teach the course. Big mistake. Although he clearly meant well, prepared carefully and cares deeply about wildlife, he was dull, stilted - frequently stumbling over the text he was reading in a monotone - and he talked to us as if we were children ("Did you ever wonder why birds have beaks?"). The course kept cutting away to awkward interviews with Smithsonian scientists, which filled time but didn't impart much information. And as other reviewers noted, much of this course felt like a commercial for the Smithsonian and National Zoo. Do we really need to hear so much about the Smithsonian's worldwide partnerships and how important the National Zoo is to preserving species and how passionate the Smithsonian's scientists are about protecting amphibians? We paid for this course. Don't treat us like an audience for your commercials. And enough about zoos. This guy keeps telling us how great they are. Maybe they've done some good, but they've also done harm, serving as jails for animals and creating markets for the captive wildlife trade. This course was not up to the Teaching Company's high standards. It was not nearly as good as its counterpart, the botany course, where a real university professor made plants much more fascinating than I had expected them to be, and I came away with a pretty decent fund of knowledge about them. Had the Teaching Co focused on producing the best course possible, rather than on accommodating the Smithsonian, we might have had a course worthy of standing with the company's many high-quality offerings. This course deals with a fascinating subject, and a gifted teacher could have done so much with it. What a missed opportunity.
Date published: 2017-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of Fun Full of information. Great pictures. Knowledgeable instructors.
Date published: 2017-12-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Slog to Get Through I feel uncomfortable giving a bad review, as I realize an enormous amount of work went into creating this course. But the truth is, these CDs are tedious to watch. 1. Lectures are clearly meant for a general audience and yet technical terms too often go undefined. 2. The speaker attempts to enliven the material by continually interjecting short interviews with other scientists. In theory this should help a lot, but in practice it makes the presentation seem unfocused and redundant. 3. The speaker is extremely knowledgeable, but when you're offering a course to the public at large you need to be able to present information in an engaging manner. I own several dozen Great Courses, and many of them are truly outstanding. (Check out the Paleontology course, for example.) Sadly though, this is not one of the better ones.
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Increased my love of animals I grew up in a small town of 600 people and attended a school with a very weak science offering. At the University, I earned a BBA in Business Administration and took two semesters of geology to satisfy the requirement of two semesters of science. As a boy, growing up in the country, I had a love for animals, but never had the chance to study biology. About ten years ago, my wife and I began the study of birds and have become serious bird watchers. I thoroughly enjoyed Prof. Don's course in Zoology--it is one more step in my learning of the animal kingdom. I was glad that Prof. Don devoted three lectures to birds, my favorites of the animal kingdom. I also enjoyed, very much, the lectures about animal behavior and the thinking of animals. Prof. Don's love of animals really shines forth in his lectures. I plan to watch and listen to Prof. Don's lectures on Zoology again--there was too much interesting information to absorb in one listening. I would highly recommend Prof. Don's lectures on Zoology to anyone who loves animals and to anyone who thinks they might become lovers of animals.
Date published: 2017-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A well delivered series, but rather boring. Dr. Moore obviously read his lectures from a prompt screen behind the camera and as such had virtually no personal contact with the audience. His content was often quite technical and I became very bored with his reading. I don't think that he looked at the audiance once the whole series! I might add, that I have been purchasing Teaching Company courses for many years, and find the recent ones where the lecturer paces about the room reading off a prompt screen are to me very impersonal. In the past, the lecturers used a podium for notes and made eye contact with me, rather than a screen behind the camera. Some lectures were not quite so 'polished' as reading off a screen, but did have a personal touch which I liked.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very disappointing!!! After taking the Introduction to Botany course from the Teaching Company, we were excited by the prospects of learning about another overlooked subject, Zoology. What a big disappointment!!!. The teacher emphasizes the ZOO part and seems to have forgotten about the ology bit. Enough "cute" giant pandas!!!. Too much of a commercial for the National Zoo and not enough content. Additionally, the teacher seems to be condescending in his presentation, like he knows more than we do. Yes, but that is not the way to act if you want to get us excited about the subject. Another thing I have noticed about Smithsonian "backed" classes in general, they are way to glitzy and dramatic and the content, which is why we took the course instead of watching reality TV, suffers.
Date published: 2017-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this off the selling materials in a CATALOG and am extremely satisfied,engrossed, and edified by the contents therein. from the colorful opening of chapters to the cogent articulate descriptions and obvious enthrallment of the presenter this appealed to a learner whose interests in science are generally diametrically opposed to the realms of biology
Date published: 2017-11-17
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