Irene Pepperberg of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, famous for her 30-year work with Alex the parrot, says that even bees can learn to discriminate among small quantities. “So some degree of ‘number sense’ seems to be able to be learned even in invertebrates, and such learning is unlikely without some underlying neural architecture on which it is based,” she remarks.
Understanding the biological basis of number sense in animals could have relevance to people. According to Brannon, it may suggest to childhood educators that math, usually taught after age four or five, could actually be introduced earlier into the curriculum.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Animals by the Numbers."