back to article Forget general AI, apparently zebrafish larvae can count

Researchers in Italy have discovered newborn zebrafish possess the ability to count, suggesting numeracy may be hard-wired into the vertebrate brain. University of Ferrara behavioural biology assistant professor Tyrone Lucon-Xiccato and his colleagues showed larvae of zebrafish (Danio rerio), a freshwater fish from the minnow …

  1. John H Woods Silver badge

    Wow ...

    ... that's a brain of about 100k neurons in a space of about a tenth of a cubic millimetre ... extraordinary really.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Wow ...

      Yes, but it's a good suggestion of what might be the situation in our larger brains, we originally probably had brains that size when we were only fish, crawling onto the sandy beaches about three and a half billion years ago.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow ...

        If I see what's happening in the world I'd say some parts of our population never evolved beyond that..

  2. Snake Silver badge

    Jumping to conclusions?

    Is it possible that the baby zebrafish simply preferred darker areas, as a surface with more black bars would reflect less light, than a lighter area? Or, possibly, since zebrafish bodies have dark stripes themselves, are they simply migrating to an area where they belief more zebrafish are located (by visually identifying an area containing, what they believe are, a greater number of zebrafish bodies via a larger number of visually identifiable stripes)?

    In other words, are you inferring counting ability instead of optical pattern recognition? And how can you tell?

    I wish to see much further study into this phenomena.

    1. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

      Re: Jumping to conclusions?

      "Is it possible that the baby zebrafish simply preferred darker areas, as a surface with more black bars would reflect less light, than a lighter area? Or, possibly, since zebrafish bodies have dark stripes themselves, are they simply migrating to an area where they belief more zebrafish are located (by visually identifying an area containing, what they believe are, a greater number of zebrafish bodies via a larger number of visually identifiable stripes)?"

      Exactly what I was thinking. Fry seek cover, or they're someone else's lunch - black bars are maybe the best cover they could find, given their own colouring. Zebrafish like to shoal too, so it could well be that they're heading for fishlike patterns.

      I suppose you could argue that they're aware of more dark over here than over there, but that doesn't really amount to counting.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Jumping to conclusions?

      I was thinking it was some sort of instinct, if it sees the "bars" as plant stalks and is wired to hide in the grass away from predators.

      If it is "counting" then black circles, black squares, black triangles, as well as white circles etc. on a black background should be where they hang out if they inexplicably prefer to be next to something that "counts" higher.

    3. Rol

      Re: Jumping to conclusions?

      I'm always sceptical of experiments. And this one more so, as you have pointed out.

      Using what has already been suggested, I would think a setup like this would be more suitable-

      Three cards. One with ten black squares, another eight and the third twelve. Each day they are moved around randomly and at exactly midday, food is released above the ten black square card.

      If they can count, like the article suggests, then within a week, just before midday, they will all be huddled near the ten black square card.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Jumping to conclusions?

        You'd have to be careful to lay out the 8, 10 and 12 squares in some pattern that can't be otherwise distinguished. i.e. if you have a 4x2, 5x2 and 4x3 layout of squares they may recognize it based on the "tallest" layout rather than counting the squares. Maybe put them in a ring, so you have three rings of the same size with the only difference being the number of squares making up the ring and how much space there is between them.

    4. Paul Johnston

      Re: Jumping to conclusions?

      Whilst agreeing these studies are extremely challenging the article says bar density was varied which would suggest that its not as simple as darker. I would have thought that was probably the first condition that was thought about which would need to be controlled for.

  3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    More bars?

    Or perhaps they are attracted to the closer spacing.

    Maybe the title of this study should have been: Zebrafish capable of performing spatial Fourier transforms.

    1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

      Re: More bars?

      I was thinking something similar.

      More bars = more light to dark / dark to light transitions = more stimulus to the "edge detection" parts of the eye or the brain.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: More bars?

      Zebra fish capable of using pedestrian road crossings.

      Any aquarium people here recognise these fish as danios?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More bars

    My boss also prefers more bars, especially on a Saturday night...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think we may have found our next chancellor.

    meow !

    1. Ken Shabby

      Re: I think we may have found our next chancellor.

      Gladstone, Chief Mouser to HM Treasury, has that covered.

      Gladstone

  6. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Awareness of numbers

    Humans, several animals, and some birds can recognise small numbers at sight: three people or four flowers, for example. The next step is to associate a word such as three or four with those numbers. We are down to humans and fewer animals. The final step is to understand relationships, such as 1 + 4 = 3 + 2. Here we are at humans only, and not all humans at that.

  7. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Tigers vs Zebra (fish)

    I saw a TV documentary years ago about tigers. The team built a hide on stilts, and two men climbed the ladder to get in. They were very close together (no daylight in between them). So when one of them left, the tigers thought the hide was empty and behaved 'normally'.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Tigers vs Zebra (fish)

      It raises the question of how they behaved when they thought the hide wasn't empty.

      1. I am David Jones Silver badge

        Re: Tigers vs Zebra (fish)

        They sat around playing poker

    2. Morrie Wyatt

      Re: Tigers vs Zebra (fish)

      It's probably much simpler than that.

      Tiger: Hmm Which one will I have for lunch?

      (One man wanders off.)

      Tiger: Ok then, Boxed lunch. I'll just have the one that's left.

  8. bertkaye

    test is not adequate

    The test fails to account for whether what is being sensed is simple black area density; for example, if it had sets of black dots covering same area as the black bars did, that would test whether it is not counting but detecting luminous volume density. It is too early to enroll the zebrafish in Calculus 1a.

  9. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

    You have one fish. Make it count.

    Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea

  10. Jedit Silver badge
    WTF?

    "They only display simple responses to stimuli such as pain, for example."

    Am I the only person asking questions such as "who the fuck is torturing baby fish?"

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