Illustration by Max Fleishman

Cuttlefish are the mathematicians of the ocean

Next stop: Sesame Street.


Cynthia McKelvey

Internet Culture

Published Sep 2, 2016   Updated May 26, 2021, 2:46 am CDT

A new study finds that cuttlefish, the adorable, color-changing cousins of squid and octopuses, can count to five.

Researchers presented the cuttlefish with two options: a case with some shrimp or a case with more shrimp. Each case contained between one and five shrimp, and the cuttlefish always picked the case with more shrimp except in certain circumstances.

When they knew the cuttlefish hadn’t eaten in a while, the cuttlefish would always go for fewer, larger shrimp than a greater amount of smaller shrimp. But even when the researchers bundled fewer shrimp together to look like there was a greater density of food, the cuttlefish were still able to count out which box had more shrimp in it.

The ability to count to five might not seem like such a big deal, but it is. Most humans don’t get to this level of “number sense” until they’re around 4 years old (though they are able to differentiate between groups of one, two, and three within their first year of life.) So this is yet another piece of evidence proving the huge cognitive capacity for these strange little creatures.

Cuttlefish, like octopuses, squid, and nautilus are all cephalopods. They’re related to other squishy, boneless, shelled animals like mussels and snails. Only they’re super smart. Cuttlefish are often appreciated for their cuteness and ability to change the color and pattern of their skin. But their intelligence is just as remarkable as their escape-artist octopod cousins.

SEE ALSO: This little googly-eyed squid is adorable

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*First Published: Sep 2, 2016, 6:39 pm CDT