The Smartest Animals on Earth

List of the world’s smartest , 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!


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.
Bottlenose Dolphin
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 )– something else chimps have a hard time with. Considering dolphins don’t have arms, this ability is perhaps all the more . 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.
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, scientists showed 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 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 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 . 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…
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.
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African Grey Parrot
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.”
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 or , 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 before grabbing it away from him, and the pig who was tricked will change behaviors to reduce how many times it is tricked.
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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