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Zoology: Newly hatched zebrafish may have built-in math | Communication Biology | Nature’s portfolio

Research press release


Communication biology

March 24, 2023

Zoology: Numerical abilities may be evidenced in newly hatched zebrafish

A paper reporting that zebrafish larvae (Dania rerio) within 96 hours of hatching discerned differences in the number of black stripes,Communication biologyTo be published in , our findings suggest that newly hatched zebrafish may have built-in numerical abilities.


Previous studies have shown that newborns, guppies and chicken chicks are gifted with mathematics, but these species have very developed brains at birth (hatching). In contrast, little is known about the numerical capabilities of species that were born as larvae or embryos with immature brains.


Tyrone Lucon-Xiccato and colleagues investigated whether newly hatched zebrafish larvae could distinguish between different numbers of vertical black stripes imprinted on the white walls of an aquarium. These larvae were first reared in tanks whose walls were covered with a pattern of vertical black stripes. After 96 hours, 180 larvae were transferred to another tank center. The walls of this tank are painted with up to four black lines on a white background. In this experiment, we observed whether the larvae swam up the wall with many black lines, against the wall with few black lines, or stayed in the middle of the tank, and we measured the time they spent in each section, down. Then, in a control study of 120 larvae, the same experiment was performed to control for differences in vertical streak density, surface area and overall shape made up of vertical stripes.

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As a result, 63.1% of the larvae preferred the wall with many black lines, and the retention time near this wall (56.9 s) was about twice that near the wall with few black lines (32.0 s) in the paddy field. In trials with 1 and 4 black stripes on the wall surface, 66.5% of the 30 larvae preferred the wall surface with 4 black stripes. Also, in a test controlled for vertical line density, surface area and overall shape, 63.2% of larvae preferred walls with black lines more. These results indicate that zebrafish larvae can discriminate between different numbers of black streaks, and prefer those with more black stripes.


Lucon-Xiccato and colleagues show that both humans and newly hatched zebrafish and larvae have computational skills, suggesting that computation is ancient in the developing vertebrate brain. It refers to the idea that it may indicate that it is a built-in distinguishing feature of.

doi: 10.1038/s42003-023-04595-7

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