Archive for November 2nd, 2008

Elephants can also do math!

November 2, 2008

It turns out that bees and fish aren’t the only ones who count. Naoko Irie tested the elephant Ashiya at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, Japan. According to this article in The Times from September:

In [Irie’s] tests, three apples were dropped into one bucket and five into a second one next to it. Two more apples were added to each bucket, leaving the first with five and the second with seven apples. Unable to see inside the buckets or probe them with her trunk, 30-year old Ashiya selected the bucket with the more apples having, apparently, counted the contents of each as it was being loaded-up with fruit.

What makes this noteworthy is that the numbers are above five and fairly close together. The bees and fish mentioned above were able to keep track of numbers, but only through four — that appears to be a common threshold for animals. These elephants had little trouble with the larger numbers, although not perfect: Ashiya only scored 87% on the test, but that’s still above the 50% predicted if it were random guessing. And, umm, higher than I was scoring on the Dots Test.