Weird Nature
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14 Fascinating, Borderline Unbelievable Animal Brains

Updated September 23, 2021 24.7k views14 items

There’s a lot of impressive facts about the power of the human brain. And while we might be the "rulers" of the world, animals have an incredible sense of intuition and intelligence too. In fact, animal brains are just as interesting as the human brain, if not more.

Animal brains come in all shapes and sizes - and in all parts of an animal's body. There are plenty of crazy animal brain facts that are almost hard to believe. These fascinating animal neurological facts cover not only what their brains look like but what they have the power to do. From the crazy and bizarre to the utterly fascinating, these amazing facts about animal brains will have you questioning just how special your own noodle really is.

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  • It should come as no surprise that several scholars wonder whether dolphins are actually smarter than humans. The reasoning behind this is the dolphin’s amazing brain, which can be as complex as that of a human. While humans beat them in terms of brain-to-body-weight ratio, dolphins are right behind humanity as the second most encephalized beings on the planet.

    Even more intriguing, dolphins have a larger neocortex than human beings. The neocortex is responsible for problem-solving, self-awareness, and a huge array of other behavior we typically associate with humans. Their brains also contain the components that govern emotions, empathy, and even recognition of a social structure. 

  • Male Three-Spined Stickleback Fish Have A Bigger Brain Than The Female Of The Species

    Photo: Piet Spaans (Viridiflavus) / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Native to Iceland, the three-spined stickleback is a one-of-a-kind species. One thing that makes it really unique? The male of the species have a much larger brain than the female. In fact, the three-spined stickleback is the only known species with this aberration.

    The prevailing theory to explain this disparity is that the male of the species has a longer list of chores in his day-to-day life. Males have to defend territory, build a nest, change their skin pigment, and then look after any kids. The female of the species just shows up, lays eggs, and then takes off. All that said, scientists still aren’t sure if the physical difference in brain size adds up to a cognitive advantage for males.

  • Photo: Joshlaymon / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Have you ever wondered why woodpeckers aren’t doing serious damage to their brains when they spend most of their day literally beating their heads against a tree? A really thick, sponge-like skull, that’s how. Scientists in Beijing discovered that woodpeckers' skulls are composed of thick formations of plate-like bone that have several trabeculae, “tiny, beam-like projections of bone that form [a] mineral ‘mesh’” that acts as armor protecting the woodpecker’s brain.

    The woodpecker’s entire head is a miracle of evolution. Not only is the bird’s skull miraculous, but scientists have previously discovered woodpeckers have thick neck muscles that help absorb the speed and force of their blows, as well as a third eyelid that prevents the woodpecker’s eyes from popping out of its skull when it hits a tree.

  • One Insect Brain Fungus Can Revive Dead Ants

    Photo: David P. Hughes, Maj-Britt Pontoppidan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    Scientists speculate the poor Camponotini carpenter ants have been the victim of a vicious, zombie-fying fungus known as the Ophiocordyceps parasitic fungus for almost 50 million years.

    When infected, a carpenter ant will descend from its arid canopy and stumble around on the humid forest floor. They wander aimlessly, suffering from sporadic convulsions that make them fall down. At this point, the ant itself is dead and the fungus is in control. Toward the end of the disease, a zombie ant will “stop on the underside of one leaf … and clamp down on the leaf's main vein.” At that point, the ant’s body will die and the fungus will sprout from its head, feeding off the corpse and the plant until it can grow and release spores that are eaten by more unsuspecting ant victims.