Question Sheet: It’s a Math World for Animals


Before reading:

  1. In your experience, how do young children learn to count?
  2. Other than in math class, where do you use math skills?
  3. If you have a pet, do you think that it can tell which of two groups has more items?

During reading:

  1. What animals are scientists using to learn about math?
  2. What convinced Elvis’ owner that the dog employs a knowledge of calculus?
  3. What is the difference between Elvis’ math skills and Tim Penning’s?
  4. What is similar in babies’ and monkeys’ math skills? How has this been demonstrated?
  5. What experiment have scientists used to test whether monkeys can count?
  6. Why did Claudia Uller choose salamanders to explore math skills?
  7. Why might an animal in the wild need math skills to survive?

After reading:

  1. How does the length of time an animal looks at objects demonstrate that it is counting? How do scientists know this?
  2. Why did Tim Pennings conduct his experiment with Elvis many times? What went wrong in some of the trials?
  3. Elvis taking the fastest possible route to the ball was one example of an animal being efficient. What are some other examples of tasks that pets perform efficiently? Which of these behaviors do you think the animal learned and which came naturally to it?
  4. Tim Pennings wondered what effect age has on a person’s ability to do math. If you were to design an experiment to test this problem, what would your hypothesis be? How would you test your initial predictions?
  5. How many cookies do you think a person could distinguish without counting? What experiment might answer that question?


  1. The article referred to the math skills that animals have as “instinctive.” What other words, or phrases, could you use to describe how these animals obtained their skills?
  2. Locate the sub-headings that are in the article. What kind of information does each explain? Come up with a new heading for each section.
  3. Write a short summary of the article, using one sentence for each section. What was the most important information that you learned?
  4. Make up a poem about an animal counting.


  1. If, in Tim Pennings’ experiment with Elvis, about 3 out of every 10 attempted trials were unusable, how many trials were actually done to get 35 good runs?
  2. When you add a cookie to a stack of 2 cookies, you’ve increased the number of cookies by 50 percent. If you add one cookie to 4 cookies, by what percentage are you increasing the number of cookies? What about if you add one cookie to a stack of 100? Do you see a pattern?