Can your cat count?

We spend a lot of time in the MyiMaths office thinking and talking about mathematics, and sometimes end up having heated debates on ‘vital issues’… such as whether or not animals can count. Or, indeed, do mathematics.

Back in the 1800s, Clever Hans the mathematical horse astounded the whole of Germany with his mostly correct answers to a range of mathematical problems including basic square roots and fractions, until it was realised that the horse was responding to subconsciously supplied clues from the human questioner. One member of the MyiMaths team is convinced that her cat counts the spoonfuls of food put into her bowl every day. Although we’re not sure we believe her, some recent studies have uncovered what appear to be counting skills in different species, suggesting mathematical ability could be innate.

In a recent experiment, robins were presented with holes in logs filled with varying numbers of worms – and the robins immediately went to the holes with most worms. If some of the worms were removed when the robins weren’t looking, they would then scour the holes for the missing worms. It was deduced that they could identify numbers up to 12. If you’ve noticed similar behaviour among the birds in your garden, or if your cat is looking at you in a strange way when you feed her, let us know (<a href=mailto:””></a>)!