4. Rhesus monkeys
Jessica Cantlon of the University of Rochester has found that rhesus monkeys can be quicker than humans (in this case, college students) when presented with two sets of objects of the same color, shape and size and asked to choose the set with fewer items. When Cantlon varied the color, shape and size of the objects, the monkeys’ accuracy and reaction time was the same.
In fact, while they were 10 to 20 percent less accurate than humans, the monkeys had faster reaction times.
Another researcher, Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University, has found that rhesus monkeys can “do math across different senses,” matching the number of sounds heard to shapes seen. She also found the monkeys can do subtraction.
Ants in the Tunisian saltpan desert, whose landscape offers few visual clues to guide them back home and where windstorms make the use of scent impossible, can not only count, but do geometry or even, trigonometry.
To make their way home, the ants “path integrate,” say researchers Martin Muller and Rudiger Wehner. That is, the tiny creatures figure out which way to walk by calculating the angle of their path relative to the position of the sun. They are also able to continuously redo their calculations as the sun moves across the sky.
How Muller and Wehner figured this out is itself worthy of note: they put stilts made of pigs’ hairs onto the ants’ legs.
What to make of all these accounts of animals doing math? As Brannon says in Scientific American, child educators might take a cue and start teaching math to children before the current starting age of four or five.
If three-day chicks can count, who knows what three-year-olds can do, too?
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