At least by our own standards—humans are the smartest animals on Earth. We are skilled at everything identified as intelligence indicators and use it to do anything from enhancing our living standards and creating wonderful communities to advancing science by sending people to the moon.
But what about the countless other animal species, though? Can they be rated as smart as humans?
Since animals have so many intelligence markers, such as their capacity for learning new things, puzzle-solving, identifying and using different tools, and self-awareness, measuring their intelligence can be challenging. Deciding which animals are the smartest can spark discussion—and lead to some surprises.
This article will discuss the 13 smartest animals in the world and other interesting, fun facts about them. Let’s get started.
This primate lives in the forests of Africa, usually residing in trees. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and are known to use tools, communicate and solve problems. In fact, many of their mannerisms and abilities are similar to humans. This comes as no surprise since we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. These animals also have the highest IQ in the animal kingdom.
In a 2007 study, researchers tested the cognitive abilities of adult chimpanzees, young chimpanzees, and college students. The test involved recognizing the locations of nine digits on a monitor after only seeing them for a fraction of a second. The results for adult chimpanzees and college students were pretty similar, but young chimps performed way better because of how well they could remember the order of numbers with more accuracy.
Unfortunately, this species is endangered, mainly because they are hunted for food. They are territorial animals and usually don’t let other chimpanzees enter their community.
Octopuses may not appear in your imagination when you think about the smartest animals. Octopuses are soft-body molluscs known for their eight tentacles and bulbous heads. They dwell on the ocean ground, using their tentacles to catch food. You can find this sea animal in many different colors and sizes. They can grow to weigh around 22 lbs or even more. But what makes this invertebrate so smart?
It is a fact that an octopus has nine brains, some of which are located in its arms. They are skilled animals that can retrieve, combine and even compare. Studies show that octopuses can even unscrew a jar lid to retrieve food. There is also evidence that octopuses are emotionally intelligent and can even recognize other species.
If an octopus doesn’t like a human, they’ll usually squirt water at them.
Elephants are known to be some of the most emotionally intelligent animals. They are self-aware and quite compassionate. Elephants grieve when they lose their loved ones and cry when they mourn. They also bury their lost ones and pay tribute to them frequently.
Elephants, like many other animals, can learn a wide range of challenging tasks, but their sense of self-awareness—the capability to recognize oneself in a mirror—distinguishes them from other animals in terms of intelligence. Many other animals, including dogs and cats, think their reflection is another animal and respond as such. Elephants are also gregarious and empathetic animals, frequently cooperating to solve issues within their herd.
Science reveals that most dog breeds have the intelligence of a 2.5-year-old human. This makes them easy to train and follow commands. When it comes to dogs, the most intelligent breed is the Border Collie. This breed has a high IQ, and they are pretty hard-working as well.
Dogs can empathize and comprehend symbolic language and emotions. They behave more like humans in several aspects as compared to primates, and can naturally follow and react to actions like pointing and eye movements.
A typical dog can learn around 165 human words or more. Chaser, a Border Collie, was able to remember over 1,000 different object names and was also able to comprehend simple statements that contained parts of the English language.
Squirrels may be small, but don’t be fooled because they are pretty smart. This bushy-tailed rodent lives in trees and can be found all over the world. Squirrels live on a diet of nuts, seeds and fruit. They shove nuts in their cheeks and store them for later use. Not only are squirrels social, but they are full of curiosity.
In order to hide from predators, several squirrels in California have been seen coating their fur in rattlesnake odor. A further indication of their exceptional intelligence is the fact that when squirrels store their food for the winter, they may create a sophisticated facade, concealing to deceive would-be burglars.. Research also shows that squirrels are able to recognize humans. If you feed a squirrel, it’ll likely view you as a good source and return for more.
The fact that a dolphin’s brain contains more folds than a human’s, suggests that it may be more intelligent. These social animals are also emotionally developed. Dolphins and whales are the only marine animals that can successfully complete the mirror test for self-awareness. These highly gregarious creatures have a distinct sense of social identity. They employ tools, just like other highly intelligent creatures, utilizing sponges to shield their snouts when hunting on the seafloor.
Dolphins can jump really high, often up to 16 ft, landing on their bellies. They use their mouth to carry things and love playing around. You can often find them chasing other dolphins playfully. This fun-loving animal can also blow bubbles!
While it’s commonly known that parrots can solve puzzles and mimic human speech, studies have revealed that these birds often genuinely understand the meaning of the words they use. There are over 300 different species of parrots in this world. Green parrots are the most common pet choice known for their vibrant feathers. Some other popular species of parrots are cockatiels, lovebirds and budgies. What makes parrots so smart is their ability to talk and mimic the human voice. They do this by controlling the airflow when they talk. This species is a vocal learner and can be taught different languages.
A Harvard psychologist taught Alex, an African grey parrot, to recognise colours, shapes, and more than 100 English phrases. On multiple occasions, the parrot demonstrated genuine comprehension of these ideas rather than just his memorization of objects.
When pet parrots spend time with their owners, they’ll usually catch on to their phrases. Some other intelligent traits of parrots are their observation and problem-solving skills. They can sort different objects by category. Parrots can also sing! In fact, this bird species is equally as brilliant as the chimpanzee.
While these animals are often kept as pets, it’s hard to associate them with being one of the most intelligent animals. However, pigs are pretty smart, even if they can be quite messy at times! Pigs exhibit a wide range of intellectual qualities, making them arguably the smartest domesticated animals in the animal kingdom. At an earlier age than humans, they can navigate mazes, show and comprehend emotion, and understand the idea of reflection.
Pigs are capable of comprehending abstract concepts and using this ability to do tasks like playing video games. In some study involving video screens, pigs really outperformed chimps in terms of speed. Their propensity to outpace local species is yet another indicator of their intelligence.
Pigeons have participated in numerous IQ tests throughout the years as a result of their ubiquity, and they consistently perform surprisingly well. In olden times, pigeons were used as messengers to carry letters. They were also used for sport on some occasions.
Research also shows that with proper training, pigeons can be used to save humans at sea. Some other amazing traits these birds possess are recognition and self-awareness. Pigeons can also recognize the correlation between things and pictures, skills that would be categorized as intelligence in any other animal.
The frequently ridiculed rat is used in many research labs and has served as the subject of a large number of IQ tests. These exceptionally bright rodents are natural learners who excel at picking up information and grasping concepts. Although they are much smaller than dogs, they appear to be equally intelligent in solving problems. This fuzzy rodent may be seen as a pest, but they are really intelligent creatures. Like pigs, they are neat freaks, even though they’re seen as dirty animals. Not only do they know how to climb, but they can also swim and jump pretty high.
Rats have excellent memory and can even remember human faces. They are also suspicious animals that run away when confronted by humans. Although their brain is small, it is similar to a human brain in terms of function. Rats can feel and are quite sensitive as well. Research shows that they also giggle when they are tickled!
This is another intelligent primate known for its large size and dark fur. Gorillas are native to Africa and love munching on leaves. They may seem scary, but they are quite gentle creatures. The intelligence of gorillas is exceptional. They have their own cultures, just like chimpanzees, and have been seen in the wild utilising a variety of advanced tools. They create complex sleeping nests from branches and foliage every night, like orangutans.
Gorillas use bamboo to make ladders for climbing trees and poking around in holes. Gorillas also use sticks to gather ants for eating. This allows them to enjoy a snack without being bitten by the ants.
A gorilla named Koko was also taught how to use sign language. Gorillas are another animal that is also known to grieve the loss of their loved ones.
Crows on this list shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, these simple birds are known to be highly intelligent. The Corvid family of birds, which also includes crows, ravens, jays, and magpies, is known for its superior intelligence. Crows are the only birds documented to have invented tools. They made probes and hooks from sticks, and leaf stems to pierce the palm tree crowns. Their young ones also learn to build tools and develop their abilities by mimicking and observing their elders, which is a surefire indication of a high animal IQ.
These smart birds also possess amazing recognition skills. They can remember human faces and even warn other crows of danger. If you harm a crow, it’ll likely remember your face and hold a grudge!
Crows have big brains and are more intelligent than most birds. They use their beaks to make and use tools. Like squirrels, crows hide their food to keep it safe from other animals. These birds are also quite emotionally intelligent, and they mate for life. They also grieve the loss of their loved ones and hold funerals too.
This adorable animal is a semi-aquatic species often seen floating on their backs in water. Not only are these animals super cute, but they are also quite smart. In fact, it is said that they are one of the most intelligent species that can stack objects like cups and rocks to create small towers.
Otters even know how to use tools like rocks to break open mollusks. They are also aware of their intelligence. Otters have a great memory and perform incredibly well when presented with a food puzzle.
That concludes our list of the smartest animals in the world. The world’s brightest animals are extremely tough to rank in any meaningful order. We hope this list has revealed some truly remarkable examples of animal intelligence and helped improve your knowledge.
What do you think — did any of the top ten brightest animals catch you off guard? Or perhaps we overlooked an obvious addition to our list of clever creatures. Please share your opinions in the comments.