The ability in animals to count and represent different numbers of objects has received a great deal of attention in the past few decades. Cumulative evidence from comparative studies on number discriminations report obvious analogies among human babies, non-human primates and birds and are consistent with the hypothesis of two distinct and widespread mechanisms, one for counting small numbers (<4) precisely, and one for quantifying large numbers approximately. We investigated the ability to discriminate among different numerosities, in a distantly related species, the mosquitofish, by using the spontaneous choice of a gravid female to join large groups of females as protection from a sexually harassing male. In one experiment, we found that females were able to discriminate between two shoals with a 1:2 numerosity ratio (2 vs. 4, 4 vs. 8 and 8 vs. 16 fish) but failed to discriminate a 2:3 ratio (8 vs. 12 fish). In the second experiment, we studied the ability to discriminate between shoals that differed by one element; females were able to select the larger shoal when the paired numbers were 2 vs. 3 or 3 vs. 4 but not 4 vs. 5 or 5 vs. 6. Our study indicates that numerical abilities in fish are comparable with those of other non-verbal creatures studied; results are in agreement with the hypothesis of the existence of two distinct systems for quantity discrimination in vertebrates.
Fish Numerosity discrimination Numerical abilities Quantity
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The authors would like to thank Marc D. Hauser, William D. Hopkins, Marco Zorzi, Catherine O’Hanlon and two anonymous referees for valuable comments on the manuscript. We are grateful to Letizia Frassine and Marilena Giuliano for the help with the experiments. This study was supported by research grants of University of Padova to AB. The reported experiments comply with all laws of the country (Italy) in which they were performed.
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