Meet 5 of the Smartest Animals in the World

Animal intelligence research makes for fascinating reading, and we’ve been on this topic before. One of the best cures for the human superiority complex and its attendant speciesism is going through the list of things that we think make us special and ticking them off, one by one.

5 of the Smartest Animals in the World

Now, please note that there are many kinds of intelligence, which makes it difficult to definitely rank species in order of their comparative thinking abilities. But what I hope this list will provide is some sense of just how many of those special traits we think of collectively as our “humanity” go well beyond homo sapiens.

In no particular order, some of the smartest animals in the world are:

1. African Grey Parrot

It’s time to remove “bird brain” from the lexicon of insults about intelligence. There are a number of families and individual species that give the smartest mammals a run for their money, including the crow family, corvidae, which made our previous list, along with pigeons.

The single smartest bird species, however, by a fairly comfortable margin, is agreed to be the African grey parrot. One of the most famous examples was Alex, who worked with a scientist for years and years, and proved that the bird was not only capable of incredible language mastery but creativity of expression and an understanding of such abstractions as mathematical concepts and deep emotions.

2 & 3. Octopuses and Cuttlefish

Not all cephalopods are created equal, and their nearest relatives, other molluscs like snails and clams, have very little in the way of brainpower. But two major groups of cephalopods, octopuses and cuttlefish, are particularly intelligent, despite being short-lived prey creatures hunted and eaten by virtually everything else in the ocean, not to mention human beings at seafood restaurants.

It seems that the amazing problem-solving abilities of octopuses and the communication skills of cuttlefish evolved initially as a side-effect of the massive brain development needed to control their complex camouflage system. Coordinating millions of chromatophores is, from a computing perspective, not a low-bandwidth task. As a result, octopuses seem to have gotten unreasonably good at analyzing their environment and solving problems.

Meanwhile, cuttlefish have developed incredibly complex communication, by showing all of their emotions on their skin. Some have even shown some Machiavellian tendencies in complex social situations, like using their camo to pretend to be female and trick rivals.

4. Cetaceans

Yes, this is a broad grouping. It’s hard to pick just one whale, dolphin, or porpoise species. Thank goodness the public backlash resulting from Blackfish finally convinced Seaworld that keeping orcas any longer was a losing proposition.

As the circus industry is taking its dying breaths throughout the world, it would be a tragedy if Seaworld were still operating business as usual with its intelligent captive mammals. Having said that, there is still work to be done there.

5. Orangutan

The name of this ape comes from old Malay, and basically means “forest person”. At one point, these unusually solitary red-furred apes, found in some of the least accessible forests, held a mythic status similar to the legendary American sasquatch or Himalayan yeti today. Turned out, though, that orangutans were quite real, and a study of primate intelligence found them to the smartest overall on most types of intelligence, save for humans.

Like chimpanzees and gorillas, which both ranked lower in that study, orangutans are capable of learning sign language and developing a vocabulary and grammatical mastery exceeding those of most small human children.

By the way, apes did not dominate the list of the smartest primates, as spider monkeys actually took fourth place, above our much nearer cousins, the gorillas. Clever monkeys.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

64 comments

Jane Howard
Jane Howard16 days ago

Video 1 - NO NATURAL ENVIRONMENT :(
Video 2 - NO NATURAL ENVIRONMENT :(
Video 3 - Natural Environment :)
Video 4 - Blackfish Trailer.
Video 5 - NO NATURAL ENVIRONMENT :(

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L29 days ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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Camilla V
Camilla Vagaabout a month ago

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Richard B
Richard Babout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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danii p
danii pabout a month ago

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