[ExI] Animal Mathematics

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Mon Dec 12 16:33:30 UTC 2016

On 12 December 2016 at 15:54, spike  wrote:
> Humans do not own mathematics, but we are the only species on the planet
> using it.  That in itself is astonishing once you think about it.

Hey! You're maligning other species!  :)

How about -----

Bees have chosen the perfect shape for their honeycombs– the hexagon.
Dogs do calculus to fetch / catch a ball.
Many species do complex navigation, salmon, birds, butterflies......
Beavers build dams
Spiders spin webs
Chimpanzees can count.

In fact, decades of research have provided evidence for the numerical
abilities of a number of species, including gorillas, rhesus,
capuchin, and squirrel monkeys, lemurs, dolphins, elephants, birds,
salamanders and fish. Recently, researchers from Oakland University in
Michigan added black bears to the list of the numerically skilled. But
the real maths wizards of the animal kingdom are the ants of the
Tunisian desert (Cataglyphis fortis). They count both arithmetic and
geometry as parts of their mathematical toolkit.

When a desert ant leaves its nest in search of food, it has an
important task: find its way back home. In almost any other part of
the world, the ant can use one of two tricks for finding its way home,
visual landmarks or scent trails. The windswept saltpans of Tunisia
make it impossible to leave a scent trail, though. And the relatively
featureless landscape doesn't provide much in the way of visual
landmarks, other than perhaps the odd rock or weed. So evolution
endowed the desert ant with a secret weapon: geometry. Armed with its
mathematical know-how, the desert ant is able to “path integrate”.
This means, according to ant navigation researchers Martin Muller and
Rudiger Wehner, that it "is able to continuously compute its present
location from its past trajectory and, as a consequence, to return to
the starting point by choosing the direct route rather than retracing
its outbound trajectory."

How does this work? These desert ants calculate the distance walked by
counting steps. Researchers discovered this by strapping stilts made
of pig hairs onto the legs of the ants. The ant’s stilts made each
individual step longer than it would have otherwise been, making them
overestimate the distance home. The ants calculate the direction they
walk by calculating the angle of their path relative to the position
of the sun, using the same rules of trigonometry that were taught to
me in the tenth grade. And what’s more, the ants constantly update
their calculations to correct for the sun's march across the sky. All
that in a nervous system comprised of as few as 250,000 neurons
(compared to the approximately 85 billion neurons in the human).

OK, I'll accept that humans are a bit better at maths.   :)


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