Ants Perform Simple Arithmetic, Communicate Information about Numbers
|Colored Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) of a brown ant, Formica sp., biting a blade of grass Courtesy of EYE OF SCIENCE / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY|
A highly social species of ant can communicate information about numbers to colony members and also perform simple arithmetic operations. Researchers surveyed a variety of experimental paradigms for studying animal abilities to count, to understand numerical information and to perform simple arithmetic operations. This new research is reported in an article by Dr. Zhanna Rezhikva and Dr. Boris Ryabko to be published in Volume 148, Number 4, pp. 405-434 of the journal Behaviour.
There is a huge body of evidence that different forms and elements of quantitative judgement and numerical competence are spread across a wide range of species, both vertebrate and invertebrate. Here, Rezhikva and Ryabko paid particular attention to the display of numerical competence in ants.
Most of the existing experimental schemes for studying numerical processing in animals, although often elegant, are restricted by studying subjects at the individual level, or by the use of artificial communicative systems. In contrast, the information-theoretic approach that was elaborated for studying number-related skills in ants employs their own communicative means and, thus, does not require the subjects to solve any artificial learning problems, such as learning intermediary languages, or even learning to solve multiple choice problems.
Using this approach, it was discovered that members of highly social ant species possessed numerical competence. They were shown to be able to pass information about numbers and to perform simple arithmetic operations with small numbers. The researchers suggest that applying ideas of information theory and using the natural communication systems of highly social animals can open new horizons in studying numerical cognition.
Citation: “ Numerical competence in animals, with an insight from ants.” Dr. Zhanna Rezhikova from the Institute of Systematic and Ecology of Animals of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, as well as Novosibirsk State University and Dr. Boris Ryabko of the Siberian State University of Telecommunication and Computer Science.
Advanced online publication on 5 April, DOI: 10.1163/000579511X568562. Full text available at: http://brill.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/beh/pre-prints/beh2917