Accurate, Focused Research on Law, Technology and Knowledge Discovery Since 2002

Animals Count and Use Zero. How Far Does Their Number Sense Go?

Quanta Magazine: “Crows recently demonstrated an understanding of the concept of zero. It’s only the latest evidence of animals’ talents for numerical abstraction — which may still differ from our own grasp of numbers…In understanding of numbers is often viewed as a distinctly human faculty — a hallmark of our intelligence that, along with language, sets us apart from all other animals. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Honeybees count landmarks when navigating toward sources of nectar. Lionesses tally the number of roars they hear from an intruding pride before deciding whether to attack or retreat. Some ants keep track of their steps; some spiders keep track of how many prey are caught in their web. One species of frog bases its entire mating ritual on number: If a male calls out — a whining pew followed by a brief pulsing note called a chuck — his rival responds by placing two chucks at the end of his own call. The first frog then responds with three, the other with four, and so on up to around six, when they run out of breath. Practically every animal that scientists have studied — insects and cephalopods, amphibians and reptiles, birds and mammals — can distinguish between different numbers of objects in a set or sounds in a sequence. They don’t just have a sense of “greater than” or “less than,” but an approximate sense of quantity: that two is distinct from three, that 15 is distinct from 20. This mental representation of set size, called numerosity, seems to be “a general ability,” and an ancient one, said Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trento in Italy…”

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.