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5 Animals Who Can Count

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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.

5. Ants

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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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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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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