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5 Animals Who Can Count

5 Animals Who Can Count
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While animals may not have a linguistic sense of numbers so they’re counting off “1, 2, 3″ in their heads, Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University thinks they have an innate ability to “do a rough sort of math by summing sets of objects without actually using numbers.” As she tells Scientific American, this mathematical ability may have evolved due to territorial animals needing “to access the different sizes of competing groups and for foraging animals to determine whether it is good to stay in one area given the amount of food retrieved versus the amount of time invested.”

There have been cases of individual animals (Alex the African gray parrot who could count up to six and add and subtract) with counting ability. Here are five species that seem to have the ability to count, suggesting that math “could be more fundamental in biology.”

1. Chimpanzees

The more researchers learn about chimpanzees, the more it’s clear how very learned they are.

Scientists placed a chimpanzee in front of two sets of two bowls; all the bowls contained chocolate pieces and the chimpanzee had to choose the set with the greatest total of pieces. That is, the chimpanzee had to count the pieces in each of the two bowls and then add them together. 90 percent of the time, they got the question right.

2. Robins

Scientists in New Zealand found that wild robins not only gathered around holes with the most mealworms (beetle larvae). If the scientists tricked the robins to look away and removed some of the mealworms, the birds then spent twice as long looking through the hole for the missing mealworms.

Kevin C. Burns of Victoria University of Wellington says that the robins “probably have some innate ability to discern between small numbers” such as three and four and can train themselves to count all the way up to twelve.

3. The domestic chicken

A chicken only three days old, set in front of two opaque screens, sees one ball go behind the first screen and then four go behind the second — and the chicken (um, chick) proceeds towards the screen hiding the greater number of balls.

No big deal, right; more is always better?

If things are made more complicated — the one ball disappears behind one screen, four go behind the second screen, then two balls are visibly placed behind the first screen — the chicks correctly approached the screen that then contained three balls, 80 percent of the time. Not bad for a chicken who’s not even a week old.

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78 comments

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4:58AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

The ants have just managed to make me feel stupid. It's way cool that some, probably more, animals can count.

9:22AM PST on Jan 1, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

12:19PM PST on Dec 27, 2012

Interesting ... thank you.

10:44AM PST on Dec 24, 2012

Sigh, sigh and sigh. Yes animals are intelligent. Humans are going to hell in a handbasket.

7:18AM PST on Dec 19, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

8:08AM PST on Dec 12, 2012

After the Cambridge Declaration on Animal Intelligence - why are we or why do we act surprised?
Our African Lovebird (the closest relative of African Gray Parrots) has been able to count from pretty well since we got her.
She has toys and she not only knows if there is any missing but she "herds" the balls as if they were animals or something. Quite strange to watch.
I've had many pet animals in my life and I don't think any of them were arithmetically challenged!

1:26AM PST on Dec 11, 2012

thank you

7:15PM PST on Dec 7, 2012

Fascinating stuff. The intelligence of animals never ceases to amaze me.

3:34PM PST on Dec 7, 2012

you also forgot bears

2:06PM PST on Dec 7, 2012

ants... wow. I didnt expect this. cool. good to know

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