# Can Animals Count ?

In a recent maths input I was asked the question, ‘Can animals count?’. Straight away I laughed and responded with not a chance, but after the input and doing some of my own research, I am now unsure of my answer.

The first piece of information which made me doubt myself was down to a horse called ‘Clever Hans’. In the 1900’s it was believed that Hans could count. Apparently when the horse was asked maths questions involving addition and division, it would answer by tapping out the answer using its hoof. It turned out that infact Hans couldn’t count and instead of understanding maths problems was understanding commands from his master ‘Van Osten’. Through experiments and observations it was discovered that instead of the animal quickly doing the sum in his head, he was responding to his owner’s movements to know how many times to tap his hoof (Jackson, 2005).

At this point in my research I was feeling pretty confident with my response of animals cannot count, however further into the input we looked at chimpanzees and ants understanding of maths which were the most convincing examples of all.

Over 30 years ago a professor created a study to demonstrate how Amuyu the chimp was a very intelligent animal and could respond to mathematical problems. The study showed Amuyu getting shown 9 numbers randomly placed across a screen for 60 milliseconds before they disappeared. He then was able to click the numbers in the correct order of what he had previously seen. After I had a shot and failing at this exact test I was amazed to see (in the video we were shown), the speed of which the chimp completed the task and also how when numbers were missing he was still able to remember the order they were in. This ultimately suggests that chimps can engage with mathematical skills, however I am still unsure if I’m convinced or believe this was down to Amuyu having remarkably good memory skills (BBC, 2017).

Something I didn’t know before this module was how clever ants were. When ants leave their nest to go and get food they remember the distance they have travelled by apparently counting the number of steps they have taken in order to get back to the right place. This should then mean that ants have an understanding of numbers and counting…….

Researchers Martin Muller and Rudiger Wehner decided to investigate this theory and find out if that is the case. One of the tests they done was shortened the ants legs and the other was increasing the ants legs by adding match sticks to them, in order to see if the variables would affect the ants ability to calculate the distance they have travelled back to their nests. The researchers concluded that the ants with the longer legs continued to walk past their nests and the ants with shorter legs stopped before their nests. This was put down to the ants having internal pedometers, meaning that the ants do in fact count how many steps they have taken from leaving their nest and then take the exact amount of steps back. So by having longer or shorter legs, the ants still counted their steps back to their nests but just travelled a shorter or longer distance (Carey, 2006).

From the studies I have researched I still cannot pick a side as to whether animals can count or not. I do believe animals can understand the concept of counting (proven by the ant investigation), however I’m not sure if they can count as they cannot talk meaning they don’t have words for numbers.

In the future this would be a topic in which I would be interested in researching some more in order to have an answer. I believe this would be a great topic to look at with my future class to demonstrate how maths can be fun and associated with topics they are interested in (animals).

Can animals count ? The research continues…..

Refrences

BBC. (2017). Super Smart Animals – Ayumu – BBC One. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/31n3tMPHkZ8sQgxS5ZjdzN/ayumu [Accessed 6 Oct. 2017].

Carey, B. (2006) https://www.livescience.com/871-ants-marching-count-steps.html (accessed: 27 November)

Jackson, J. (2005) http://www.critical-thinking.org.uk/psychology/the-clever-hans-effect.php (accessed: 27 November)

Muldertn (2008) Chimps counting. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cKg9D4QKCM (Accessed: 27 November 2017).