Animals may have a more complex understanding of our world than we thought. Specifically, they may be able to understand numbers and counting. No, they don’t practice arithmetic, but researchers have found that most animals have what they call “numerical competence.”
For example, honeybees remember the number of landmarks they pass when they leave the hive in order to find their way back. Wolves also carefully maintain the precise number of animals in packs for ideal hunting success. They assess this number and alter it depending on type of prey. This skill even plays a role in reproduction.
Male bullfrogs “sing” to attract mates, and females of the species listen for the songs with the highest number of “chucks” in them. Even the simple mealworm beetle uses numerical competence to optimize offspring production.
Researchers at the University of Tuebingen, Germany believe these skills have evolved in all types of organisms to increase chances of survival. Different species evolved from different lineages, but most of them evolved to use numerical competence in some form or another. There isn’t much research being conducted in this field, but the scientists hope to begin looking deeper into how the brain and neurons process numbers in animals next year.