The 15 Smartest Animals on Earth

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List of the world's smartest animals, in order of their animal intelligence ranking. When putting this list of the smartest animals in the world together, I had to give myself criteria to follow. A complex brain is not a factor so much as the ability to use creative thinking. Sure, these are my own standards, and some might complain that this list is decidedly anthropomorphic– seeing as how I'm judging these smart animals by obvious human criteria.

For example, why should creative thinking mean one animal is smarter than another animal that can remember the location of 2,200 individual nuts it buried over 2 years? That's just how I decided to do it. To me, creative thinking makes an animal smart, not memorization. I couldn't limit myself to a list of just the top 10 smartest animals because that would have eliminated some incredibly smart and creative creatures.

What is the smartest animal in the world? Check out this list of nerdy mammals to find out which of our pets will ultimately rule the planet when humans go extinct!

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    Orangutans are now considered to be the smartest of the primates, over chimps. Orangutans have been taught to saw wood, use a hammer to nail structures together and even siphon liquids through a hose. But while that could be simply marked up to rote training, what makes the orangutan smart is its ability to understand why we complete these actions and use them in the wild when they might be helpful. For example, an orangutan was taught how to build a simple protective structure using tools available in the wild. When released from captivity, the orangutan was observed building the same structure to get out of the rain.

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    Bottlenose Dolphin

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    Bottlenose dolphins possess advanced language comprehension skills, making them able to understand signed gestures, generalized words like "ball," and can also refer to sets of objects with similar characteristics. They get numerical concepts, and they're able to understand and react to questions about objects outside of their immediate vicinity. They process information received both acoustically and visually, allowing them to recognize scenes presented on a television screen (something chimps must be trained to do).

    Dolphins understand pointing (like dogs)– something else chimps have a hard time with. Considering dolphins don't have arms, this ability is perhaps all the more amazing. Dolphins also seem to demonstrate self-awareness by using mirrors to recognize and inspect marks placed inconspicuously on their bodies (like elephants).

    Dolphins demonstrate problem solving and tool-use by picking up the habit of swimming with sea sponges on their snouts, which armor them against the prick of spiny fish. In one study, Bottlenose dolphins were found capable of choosing an "I don't know" option during a difficult test. When the dolphins selected that option, they were likely considering their own thought process. This indicates the cognitive concept known as metacognition, which some consider an indicator of self-awareness and higher consciousness.

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    Chimpanzees learn, perform cognitive and creative tasks, and have a better memory than any other animal. They can perform sign language to communicate with humans. Chimps have been observed using advanced knowledge of tools– building what they need from what they have in creative and adaptive ways. They have shown ability in thinking ahead by using tactical attack maneuvers, such as flanking their prey. They often use mental manipulation within their families. In 2006, it was shown that chimps share 98% of the same genetic DNA as humans. Recently, chimpanzees have been seen teaching sign language to their infants without human interference.

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    Elephants are incredibly intelligent. They have incredibly large brains, even when compared to scale with human brains, the elephant brain dwarfs the brains of most other mammals. They have created some of the most complicated social structures in the animal kingdom. One indication of intelligence is altruism, or an animal's sacrifice for the good of the whole herd. Elephants are famous for their altruism in protecting their young, and this is only one of the many characteristics that make them amazingly intelligent. Elephants have been known to medicate themselves when sick by chewing the leaves of specific trees depending on their illness. They also bury their dead in a ritualistic way, the only other species on Earth to do so besides humans. Elephants are also very playful, which helps them to develop dexterity and special reasoning. Their nimble trunks can be used to manipulate tools, including paintbrushes, which elephants have been trained to use in creating remarkable pieces of art. They can recognize themselves in mirrors, and, when marked, can immediately see something new has been added to their visage. That cognitive ability, the ability to have enough of a sense of self to recognize a reflection AND to be able to recognize that reflection as being them, is the sign of true intelligence.

    The video here is amazing... just watch it...

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    Crows are considered to be the smartest birds of all. They top the avian IQ scale and not just because they, like parrots, can be taught speech. They can count, differentiate between complex shapes, and also carry out observational learning tasks. The New Caledonian Crow has been found to create knives to cut leaves and stalks of grass, as well as hooks out of stray bits of wire, which they use to fish grubs out of hiding places. Crows throw clams, nuts, shells on the roads and wait for passing cars to run over them. This helps break the hard shells, and the crow can enjoy its delicious treat inside. Creative thinking is hallmark of intelligence, but these birds also form complex social behaviors and have been observed acting in concert to perform complex tasks such as theft, employing lookouts and decoys.

    6 Ways Crows Are Smarter Than You

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    African Grey Parrot

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    African Grey Parrots are extremely sociable, loving, and intelligent animals. They are capable of learning hundreds of human words and sounds, which can be used in their proper contexts. Some researchers say that African Grey Parrots have intelligence equivalent to that of a five-year-old child.

    The most famous African Grey was probably Alex (1976 - 2007) who was the subject of a thirty-year (1977-2007) experiment by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. By the end of his life, he could identify fifty different objects and recognize quantities up to six; he could distinguish seven colors and five shapes, and understand the concepts of "bigger," "smaller," "same," and "different," and that he was learning "over" and "under." Alex had a memorized vocabulary of about 150 words, but what was exceptional was that he used these words to actually communicate what he wanted. For example, when he was tired of being tested, he would say "I'm gonna go away", and if the researcher displayed annoyance, Alex tried to diffuse it with the phrase, "I'm sorry."

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    Pigs have long been considered to be smarter than dogs. Ironically, it is also one of the cleanest animals around. A pig will refuse to defecate anywhere near the area where he lives and eats when he is given a choice. You can train a pig just like a dog or cat, but what makes their intelligence remarkable is the complex social lives that behaviorists once believed to be the purview of primates. Mother pigs have been found to sing to their piglets while they are nursing. They excel at video games that would be hard for a young child, and sometimes better than the primates.
    Also, like primates and other smart animals, they learn from watching one another, often working to outsmart each other. One pig will often follow another pig to food before grabbing it away from him, and the pig who was tricked will change behaviors to reduce how many times it is tricked.

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    The much-maligned rat. You may find them as the most disgusting rodents on the planet, but their psychology is similar to humans and is one of the reasons they are mostly used for lab experiments. Rats possess a mental ability called metacognition that is seen only in humans and some primates. They can use their keen sense of smell and hearing to detect landmines and bombs. They can even identify human sputum samples containing tuberculosis bacteria. Rats show signs of excitement, loss, stress and even remorse.

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    Anyone who has a backyard and has attempted to have a bird feeder knows all too well how irritating the squirrel's problem-solving abilities are. They are possibly one of the most cunning and determined animals on earth, made all the more annoying by what feels like sheer stubbornness. Even though its natural habitat is the woodlands, squirrels have adapted to city life like champs. Numerous studies have been done to try and stump these little thieves, but their memories are steel traps, and every experience they encounter is a learning one.

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    Like other intelligent animals, raccoons develop miniature societies and have complicated relationships with others in their community. Unlike some other animals, raccoons have amazing hands (thumbs!) and are more than capable of using tools and solving problems using their paws. They are fearless and confident animals, seeming to assume themselves to be in control of whatever situation they find themselves in. They travel in family units and protect each other fiercely.

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    Veined Octopus

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    The cephalopod family itself is considered to be remarkably smart (multiple species of octupi and squid), as well as the mollusk class. The octopus is considered the smartest invertebrate alive. In experimental conditions, these animals have displayed both short and long term memory. They have incredible observational learning and problem solving ability. Octopuses have an extremely large nervous system, but only a portion is found in their brain. Around two-thirds of an octopus neurons are found in cords around and in its arms. There arms have a remarkably large autonomy. They are masters of mimicry and camouflage. They are professional escape artists and can often be found in the hull of crabbing boats, feeding on the catch. These animals have incredibly keen eyesight, sense of touch, and are very fast. They don'™t make great pets or zoo attractions. In one recent story, an octopus flooded the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium by turning a valve and allowing hundreds of gallons of water to overflow the tank.

    In this video, watch an octupus discover the remains of a coconut shell and put it to good use.

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    We have rats on this list, so why not the "flying rat"... that most unkind insult to a bird that doesn't deserve its urban reputation. These birds, like their land dwelling "relatives," are very smart. Most people are aware that pigeons were used during war as messengers and prized for their ability to remember people and places for many years at a time. But pigeons can also multitask, dividing their attention between multiple stimuli at the same time in order to accomplish multiple tasks in a shorter period of time. This is a remarkable feat and one that few animals can duplicate.

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    Maybe it's not fair to put dogs so far down on the list, but I think they have an unfair advantage (read: bias) with us humans. We've essentially changed their DNA in order for them to be the perfect animal companion to us. When compared with their direct ancestor, wolves, dogs display markedly different behaviors. We have literally change this animal into something that makes us the center of the world. A dog can be taught to understand pointing, for example, a very complex associative skill. The concept of pointing AT a thing we want you to pay attention to is not something that comes automatically, it is something that has to be learned. Wolves don't learn this. Dogs can. We see them as smart because their behaviors are ones we have bred them to exhibit to make them be more like us. Not to take away from their smarts, they can use creative thinking too, but they don't quite match up to the more devious and cunning animals.

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    Portia Labiata Jumping Spider

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    Also known as the White-Mustached Portia, these spiders have demonstrated learning abilities in laboratory tests and have been labeled as the smartest bugs in the world. They perform astoundingly well on numerous problem solving tasks. One of their principle skills is luring other spiders from their webs for food. To do this, they will pluck out rhythms at the corner of a web to mimic a trapped bug or insect intruder. If the Portia has encountered this type of spider before, then it will remember what rhythm pattern to use in order to achieve success. The Portia labiata has great eye sight and has been seen using incredible instinctive behavior. The spider uses a planned trial-and-error approach to hunting and shows a strong cognitive base. As the prey comes and goes, the spider will sit and wait for hours until it has a perfect moment to strike, plotting ahead and understanding that the meal will eventually return. These spiders have also shown signs of selective attention by identifying specific objects and prey over others.

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    Ants are suggested to be the smartest insect on the planet, and have the largest brain mass of all insects. Ants are intelligent, methodical, and strategic. They know how to send scouts out for food. They know how to delegate responsibility between hunting/gathering and defending their home. And they can direct traffic better than any streetlight or cop. Ants are extremely territorial and they will not hesitate to let invaders know that. They also know how to adapt to their changing environment, or to change their environment to suit their needs.

    ( See my list of ant facts )

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