African Gray Parrot
Grasps Zero Concept
By Hector Duarte Jr.
All Headline News
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 versus less."
She now plans to find out how well Alex can add and subtract.
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