6 Species Proving Humans Aren’t the Only Intelligent Ones on the Planet


Written by David DeFranza

Defining intelligence is not easy. Is it an ability for abstract thought? Communication? Reasoning? Problem solving? It’s a troubling concept for humans because we know we have it but we’re not so sure what, exactly it is.

And traditionally, humans have considered their intelligence to be superior to that of the rest of earth’s inhabitants. Animals, it has long been thought, have a degree of intelligence but certainly nothing that could compare to humanity’s proclivity for innovation and emotional understanding.

Recently, however, a series of observations have challenged this idea. Indeed, we humans are finally realizing that several animals—from our cousins the apes down to fish and even some invertebrates—experience deep emotion, develop culture, and utilize tools for problem solving; all things that were once the cornerstones of the human intelligence pedestal.


1. Apes

Any discussion of animal intelligence must begin with apes. There has been extensive and well-documented research that has found evidence of some key elements of high intelligence in ape species including self awareness, emotional understanding, problem solving and reasoning, culture, and language.

Perhaps the most compelling sign, however, are the numerous videos of apes morning their dead kin. The footage of both chimpanzees and gorillas is chilling.


Top photo from Chi King via flickr.


Bodhi Surf School/flickr

2. Dolphins

Ever since Flipper hit theaters and TV screens in the 1960s, dolphins have been regarded as one of the most intelligent species on the planet. It was not until recently, however, that the true extent of this intelligence was acknowledged. Dolphins have exhibited “self-recognition, an understanding of symbol-based language, and distinct personalities.” In fact, some scientists have called “non-human person” status for dolphins.

Mr. Wright/flickr

3. Elephants

Another animal that has, upon closer examination, shown signs of higher intelligence is the elephant. As herd animals, elephants are used to living in groups. Recent research, however, revealed that elephants a capable of working together to solve problems. Evidence of this sort of collaborative ingenuity was surprising.


4. Crows

It’s relatively easy to accept that other mammals exhibit high-level intelligence—after all, they tend to have big brains just like humans. Crows, however, defy the pejorative title of “bird brain.” In fact, these clever birds have been observed crafting and using specific and specialized tools to gather food.

5. Fish

Fish, too, it seems share the ability to use tools to solve specific problems. Researchers have captured photos and videos of at least two reef fish species using rocks to crack open stubborn clam shells.


6. Octopuses

Tool use, it turns out, is not even limited to animals that have a spine. Scientists recently observed an octopus using a coconut shell as a mobile shelter. By carrying it along, the octopus could stop anywhere and crawl in, finding protection from potential predators while on the go.

Though no animal has exhibited the desire or ability to cooperate and transform the planet to the extent humans have, it’s clear that many species deserve more credit than they been given in the past.

This post was originally published by Treehugger.


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Marilyn M.
Marilyn M.about a year ago

Thank you.

Bruce and Wendl Duncan
Bruce and Wendl Duncanabout a year ago

Add to that list the African Grey Parrot (see Alex ("Avian Learning Experiment"), easily as smart as a 3-5 year old human child, and the Kea, an alpine parrot of New Zealand that may even be smarter. Videos on YouTube.

Dave C.
Dave C.about a year ago

...this might be my favorite all time c2 post.....wonderful...

its easy to see humans aren't the only ones with intelligence, in fact I really agree with Einstein "the only two things that infinite -- the universe and humanity stupidity, and I 'm not sure about the universe".........

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G.about a year ago

great article, thank you

Amy L.
Amy L.about a year ago

Is it wrong of me to believe that animals are in many ways more intelligent than humans?

Mitch F.
Mitch F.2 years ago

Human intelligence?? I guess I watch the news to much.

Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Karen Bennick

We can learn so much from the animals. We have but there is always more.

vicky t.
vicky T.2 years ago

Every day my African Grays prove to me how smart they are

Barbara J.
Barbara J.2 years ago

I've always thought animals were more intelligent than humans.