Lesson 09: Spawning Behavior

Sturgeon Lesson Plan #9

Lesson Title: Describing adult lake sturgeon spawning behavior


Students will watch two underwater videos of male and female lake sturgeon in the act of spawning.  Males appear to be highly ‘motivated’ and can be seen engaging in very stereotypic behaviors.  The students will use the table provided in the ‘spawning behavior’ subsection of the lake sturgeon web site to develop an ‘ethogram’ or chart of behaviors for each visible male and responses by the female to these behaviors.  The students will then view a third video on the ‘Behavioral Ecology’ web section.  In this video, the female actually releases gametes.  The students are asked, based on the ethograms developed in other videos, what specific behaviors or other factors may have led to the female responding by releasing her eggs.


  • To develop skills in collecting and interpreting data students themselves collect
  • To develop skills in developing hypotheses based on observations
  • To develop skills in communicating results from observations.  Establishing criteria where-by data can actually be used to support or refute hypotheses.
  • To develop oral and written communication skills in reporting results.
  • To demonstrate abilities to generalize findings and to either extrapolate results to other situations or communicate limitations of the findings (are findings entirely context-specific)?

Subjects: Science, Social Studies

Grade Level(s): 9-12

Content Standards:

Duration: 1-2 days

Materials/What you Will Need:

Lake sturgeon web site for video and copy of the ethogram (chart of behaviors)
behavioral ecology pdf background


Video may require Adobe Flash Player

Background materials are available in the lesson 9 pdf file and on the lake sturgeon web site in the Behavioral Ecology section and spawning behaviors subsection.


The students are asked to construct an ethogram which is a chart of different activities preformed by each individual lake sturgeon male and female.  Use the ‘Spawning Behaviors table that describe the male and female behaviors on the ‘spawning behaviors’ subsection of the lake sturgeon web site.  The chart students will prepare will consist of either the number of occasions an individual engages in the behavior or the amount of time in which an individual engages in the behavior.  The students should tally this information for each adult male in the 2 videos (male attempting spawning video and tracking female video) on the spawning behaviors web sub-section.

Based on the information tallied while watching the videos and based on information in the pdf file on fish spawning behavior, the students will develop hypotheses about which male behavior on the Spawning Behaviors chart should be most important for a female and which females are likely to respond to before they release their eggs.  The hypotheses should be based on the data the students recorded from watching videos and a summary they will prepare of their observations.  Other information in the videos such as number of males, body size of males (relative size such as small medium, large based on other fish in the video) can also be recorded.  In the video males are marked with colored tags on the right side and females are marked with color tags on the left side (of the dorsal fin).

The students will develop criteria by which additional data collected from a third video can be used to argue in support of the hypotheses or to refute the hypotheses.

The students will watch the third video and also record male behaviors and other observations on male size, group size and sex composition, etc.  What male behavior or other factors appear to result in the female releasing eggs?  Is the hypothesis supported by the data recorded from the third video?  The students should develop their arguments based on the criteria they have established.

Extended Learning Opportunities:

The instructor can use a portion of a class period for group discussion or ask the students to comment in their write-up of the data to expand upon their observations in other hypothetical situations.  For example, most lake sturgeon populations are numerically depressed (low numbers).  How will the low numbers affect female spawning success or queues females use to decide to release eggs.  Other aspects of sturgeon biology that are presented on the web site could be discussed.

Assessment and Evaluation:

  • Completeness of summaries of observations.
  • Demonstration that conclusions (hypotheses) were well founded based on data the students recorded.
  • Demonstration of ability to synthesize results and discuss results.
  • Demonstration of ability to extrapolate information collected to generalize findings to other situations.

Lesson Sources:

Lake sturgeon web site
Lesson-9-Background-to-fish-reproductive-biology-and-mating-systems-with-a-focus-on-lake-sturgeon (PDF)

Data Sources:

The students will develop their own data based on observations and instructions provided by the teacher.

Supporting Resources: