Who Knew Fish Could Be So Smart? A New Study Shows They Can Calculate

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Some animals such as primates have mathematical abilities. Even insects, specifically bees, can do math. But what about water-dwelling animals like fish? The answer to that is a wild yes!

Much like how humans can tell the quantity of a small number of coins on a table at a single glance, fish can similarly detect small amounts (presumably) without counting. With this ability, they can be trained to correctly distinguish varying quantities, such as three from four.

However, a recent study from April 2022 from the University of Bonn in Germany revealed more about what they’re capable of: being able to do basic math calculations. The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, states that cichlids (a colorful aquarium fish) and stingrays (flat-bodied rays that are related to sharks) can perform basic addition and subtraction of 1 to a number range of five.

“We trained the animals to perform simple additions and subtractions,” states Professor Dr. Vera Schluessel from the University of Bonn Institute of Zoology. “In doing so, they had to increase or decrease an initial value by one.”

How do you get a fish to solve math problems?

How do you get a stingray to solve the sum of 3+1? The answer lies in color-coded geometric shapes. Schluessel and her team of researchers used a method that successfully tested the math skills of bees in a past study.

The fish were shown cards containing a geometric shape (circle, triangle, square) in corresponding colors. When the shapes are blue, it means to “add one” while yellow means to “subtract one.” Afterward, they’re presented with two gates, each with a different number of shapes displayed and one of which contains the correct mathematical answer.

How complex is basic math for fish?

Although the test may appear simple in nature, it may not be the case for our fish friends. Fish do not have a neocortex, or what is commonly known as the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain which is in charge of complex cognitive tasks in mammals.

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