It’s nearly impossible to compile a definitive, ranked list of the world’s smartest animals, owing to the fact that scientists can’t agree on a single, particular definition of intelligence or how to quantify it.
All animals, including humans, have evolved cognitive capacities in order to thrive in their natural environment. Self-awareness, creativity, abstract thinking, cooperation, altruism, problem-solving, math skills, social learning, language and communication abilities, and many more indications of intelligence are used by humans.
Scientists prefer to look at comparable indicators when measuring animal intelligence, which may undervalue animal intelligence by depending too heavily on human-centric testing. With their tool use and communication skills, great apes demonstrate the classic human indicators of intelligence, although a wide range of non-primate species have also been observed to display cognitive qualities.
Measuring animal intelligence is difficult, and comparing intelligence between species is difficult, as tests are typically developed for a single species and are difficult to reuse successfully across species.
With all of this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the smartest animals (excluding humans), rated according to their relative intelligence.
The perseverance, memory, and cunning of squirrels have made them the arch-enemy of gardeners all around the world. They are essentially woodland animals that have adapted to live with humans and feed using a variety of tactics including bird feeders and whatever food they can get their hands on.
In California, several squirrels have been recorded coating their fur in rattlesnake scent to hide from predators. Squirrels also construct intricate pretexts of hiding food to fool would-be robbers when storing their food for the winter months, another indicator of superior intelligence.
The rat is commonly employed in research facilities and has been the subject of numerous intelligence tests. These exceptionally bright rats are natural scholars who excel at learning and comprehending topics. Despite being much smaller than dogs, they appear to be just as capable of solving issues.
Rats excel at navigating mazes despite their limited eyesight, and once they learn a navigation method, they never forget it. Rats, like many other clever creatures, are extremely compassionate. Even when given the option of a treat instead, the vast majority of rats tested preferred to help another rat who was forced to tread water, according to one study.
The other species on this list of the smartest animals are vertebrates (those with backbones), but there are a few invertebrates that are exceptionally intelligent. The octopus not only has the largest brain of any animal and shares complex human brain traits like folding lobes, but it also has 60% of its neurons in its arms!
Octopi have been seen throwing rocks and spraying water at overhead lights to break them, and another was caught picking up divided coconut shells to use as protection. Other evidence of intelligence include the ability to unscrew the lid off a jar and negotiate mazes fast.
7. Domestic dog
Dogs that have been domesticated use their intelligence to communicate with humans. They are capable of comprehending emotions and symbolic language, as well as displaying empathy.
Dogs are more human-like than primates in several aspects, and they can follow and respond to human gestures like pointing and eye movements without any training.
The average dog can understand about 165 human words, but they can learn a lot more. Chaser, a border collie, was able to remember over 1,000 object names and understand basic English syntax in the form of short sentences (for example, “to ball, take frisbee”).
Pigs are among the smartest domesticated animals in the animal kingdom, exhibiting a wide range of intelligence characteristics. At an earlier age than humans, they can solve mazes, express and understand emotions, and grasp the notion of reflection.
Pigs can also comprehend abstract representations and use this ability to do tasks such as playing video games. Pigs really outperformed chimps in several video screen testing. The pigs’ capacity to out-compete local animals everywhere they have been taken is another indicator of their intelligence.
The crow is a member of the Corvid family of birds, which includes magpies, ravens, jays, and crows. Crows are the only non-primate vertebrates known to have invented tools, constructing probes and hooks from sticks and leaf stems to pierce the crowns of palm trees. Young birds can create tools, but they learn to do so by watching and imitating their adults, indicating that they have a high animal IQ. New Caledonian crows are thought to be the smartest birds in the world, in part because they stay in the nest as fledglings rather than flying out, giving them more time to develop their cognitive talents.
The elephant has the largest brain of any land mammal, with as many neurons as a human brain, and this is one technique to gauge intelligence by comparing brain size to body size.
Elephants are reported to have exceptional memories, to be empathetic, and to be self-aware, recognizing themselves in a mirror. They can also cooperate together to solve challenges, as evidenced by one experiment that required two elephants to drag various ropes in unison to reach two food bowls.
Dolphins (and whales) have big brains compared to their bodies, making them at least as intelligent as birds and primates. Furthermore, the dolphin brain has more folds than the human brain, implying that it has a higher intelligence.
Only dolphins and whales pass the mirror test for self-awareness, and they are exceptionally sociable animals with a strong sense of social identity. They also employ tools, as do other highly intelligent creatures, such as sponges to protect their snouts when foraging on the seafloor.
Orangutans are one of the smartest mammals, second only to humans, in terms of intelligence. They have their own cultures, just like chimps, and have been seen in the wild utilizing a variety of complex tools. Each night, they build complex sleeping nests out of branches and leaves, similar to gorillas.
Orangutans are mostly solitary creatures who live in widely dispersed populations with strong but distant social links. According to one study, they employ “calculated reciprocity” to balance the costs and benefits of gift exchanges and keep track of them over time, making them the first nonhuman animal to do so.
With a 99 percent gene overlap with humans, it’s no surprise that the chimp is at the top of this list of intelligent creatures. They can manufacture and utilize tools, hunt in groups, communicate using sign language, and show benevolence, empathy, and self-awareness, to name a few examples of their intelligence.
Chimpanzee groups establish their own cultures, which include distinct inclinations and behaviors learnt or mimicked from other groups, as well as complex communication. In the wild, they communicate with their other using over 60 different gestures, and in captivity, they can acquire human sign language.