- Boston, Massachusetts (AHN) - Alex, a 28-year-old African
gray parrot, responds "none" when he sees there are no items
on a tray, which is usually stocked with objects.
- Although his brain is the size of a walnut, scientists
say Alex's ability to understand the concept of zero is amazing, as humans
do not typically grasp it until the age of 3 or 4.
- According to Irene Pepperburg, who led the reasearch,
Alex possesses a zero-like concept, which although different to ours, still
demonstrates his ability to understand an absence of quantity.
- The results add to growing evidence that birds and other
animals are much smarter than we thought. A 2003 study in the journal Nature,
found common marsh birds, known as coots, can keep count of their own eggs,
even when other eggs are mixed in the nest.
- Black-capped chickadees were found to warn other birds
of danger by chirping the size and threat of individual predators, while
the language of prairie dogs was found to contain a word for humans.
- Studies have also shown monkeys, dogs and rats all know
how to laugh.
- The discovery of Alex's counting ability raises the question
whether humanlike behavior in animals is truly innate of if a creature
is simply mimicking a trainer.
- Pepperberg responded, "It is doubtful that Alex's
achievement, or those of some other animals such as chimps, can be completely
trained. Rather, it seems likely that these skills are based on simpler
cognitive abilities they need for survival, such as recognition of more
- She now plans to find out how well Alex can add and subtract.
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