Questions for “Animals can do ‘almost math’”


Scientists have found that many animals can do something that is almost like human math. They do not, however, rely on a number system like ours.

S. Zielinski and B. Brookshire

To accompany feature “Animals can do ‘almost math’


Before Reading: 

1. Can animals count? Back up your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer with three pieces of evidence.

2. Why might an animal need to understand numbers or quantities?

During Reading:

1. Why doesn’t Christian Agrillo give his students instructions for some of the number-related tests that he gives them?

2. Name five animal species that have some kind of quantity-related ability.

3. What is numerosity?

4. What happened when scientists tested whether dogs will rescue their owners, like the fictional TV dog Lassie?

5. What did Clive Wynne and his colleague learn when they ran an experiment with pets at a doggie daycare?

6. Why does Rosa Rugani design ‘games’ for chicks?

7. How did researchers test whether gold orb-web spiders have a sense of numerosity?

8. What is an approximate number system?

9. What is subitizing?

10. Explain what number neurons do.

After Reading:

1. Why might it be beneficial to a species to have abilities related to quantities? Explain using examples from the article.

2. Scientists have come up with all sorts of ways to test animal abilities when it comes to quantities. Pick an experiment from the article and explain how you would modify it to either improve it or to answer a new question. Or design your own experiment from scratch.


1. You work at a pet store and want to use the scientific findings mentioned in the article to come up with a creative way to boost sales. Select one or more animals from the article and create the text for an e-mail that you would send to would-be customers. (Be careful not to make assumptions about the information given in the article.) How would you lure new customers in with information about how animals use ‘almost math’?