It all started with a pair of slightly unbelievable baby rabbits, a baby boy rabbit and a baby girl rabbit.

They were fully grown after one month

and, being rabbits, they did what rabbits do best, so that the next month two more baby rabbits (again a boy and a girl) were born.

The next month these babies were fully grown and the first pair had two more baby rabbits (again, handily a boy and a girl).

Ignoring problems of in-breeding, the next month the two adult pairs each have a pair of baby rabbits and the babies from last month mature.

This highly unrealistic situation (where rabbits never die and every month each adult pair produces a mixed pair of baby rabbits, who go on to mate the next month) was studied in the thirteenth century by Leonardo Pisano, better known as Fibonacci. He posed the problem “how many rabbits can a single pair produce after a year?” Fibonacci realised that the number of adult pairs in a given month was the total number of rabbits (both adults and babies) in the previous month

Adults_{n}_{th month} = Rabbits_{(n-1)th month}

and the number of baby pairs in a given month was the number of adult pairs in the previous month

Babies_{n}_{th month} = Adults_{(n-1)th month} = Rabbits_{(n-2)th month},

so the total number of pairs of rabbits in a particular month was the sum of the total pairs of rabbits in the previous two months:

Rabbits_{n}_{th month} = Adults_{n}_{th month} + Babies_{n}_{th month}= Rabbits_{(n-1)th month} + Rabbits_{(n-2)th month}.

So following this through for a year we get the answer to Fibonacci’s question: 144 pairs of rabbits after a year.

1 pair in January

1 pair in February

2 pairs in March

3 pairs in April

5 pairs in May

8 pairs in June

13 pairs in July

21 pairs in August

34 pairs in September

55 pairs in October

89 pairs in November

144 pairs in December

The first nine of these – 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 – are the sequence of numbers you see on your cube. The sequence bares Fibonacci’s name after he published it in his great work, the Liber Abaci, in 1202. This book changed the face of western mathematics, not because of the Fibonacci numbers, but because it introduced the now familiar numerals 0,1,2,…,9 and demonstrated how easy they made calculations, compared with the cumbersome Roman numerals that were still being used then by mathematicians and merchants.

The sequence has many curious mathematical features. For example, every second Fibonacci number, starting with 5, is the long side of a right-angled triangle whose side lengths are whole numbers: 5 is the longest side of a triangle whose other sides are 3 and 4 (52=32+42) and 13 is the longest side of a triangle whose other sides are 5 and 12 (132=52+122) and so on.

The Fibonacci sequence appears in many places in nature, for example we can find its numbers in the turns of a shell. Start with two squares side by side, each with sides of length 1, for the first two numbers in the sequence.

Then you can add a square with sides of length 2

and one with sides length 3