Smart Animals

Did you know that some animals have cognitive abilities that can almost suppress those of humans? This list of the smartest animals may surprise you how intelligent ocean inhabitants, squirrels, and even some birds can be!

Common Chimpanzee
Common Chimpanzee
These unique creatures live in a strict male-dominated hierarchy, where disputes are generally settled without the need for violence. Chimpanzees display numerous signs of intelligence, from the ability to remember symbols to cooperation, tool use, and perhaps language. Nearly all chimpanzee populations are able to use tools, modify sticks, rocks, grass, and leaves and use them for hunting and acquiring honey, termites, ants, nuts, and water. ...
Chimpanzees can also create sharpened sticks to spear small mammals and use leaves as sponges or spoons to drink water. West African chimpanzees crack open hard nuts with stones or branches. These amazing animals have used stone tools since at least 4,300 years ago!
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Common Chimpanzee
African Bush Elephant
African Bush Elephant
Elephants are not only keystone species, due to their impact on their environments but they also are very intelligent animals. These massive but gentle creatures have self-awareness and are able to show empathy for dying and dead family members. Elephants can also recognize themselves in the mirror and are known to use tools. An Asian elephant has been observed modifying branches and using them as flyswatters. Elephants are popularly thought of ...
as having an excellent memory; they possibly have cognitive maps to allow them to remember large-scale spaces over long periods of time. They even appear to be able to keep track of the current location of their family members.
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African Bush Elephant
Carrion Crow
Carrion Crow
Crows are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals. They have been found to engage in activities such as sports, tool use, the ability to hide and store food across seasons, episodic-like memory, and the ability to use individual experience in predicting the behavior of proximal conspecifics. Recent research has found some crow species capable of not only tool use, but also tool construction. Carrion crows in urban Japan and ...
American crows in the United States have innovated a technique to crack hard-shelled nuts by dropping them onto crosswalks and letting them be run over and cracked by cars. They then retrieve the cracked nuts when the cars are stopped at the red light.
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Carrion Crow
Common Bottlenose Dolphin
Common Bottlenose Dolphin
Dolphins are popular in various cultures worldwide and they are also highly valued for their intelligence. They are capable of teaching, learning, cooperating, scheming, and grieving. Common bottlenose dolphins even have bigger brains than humans. They are not only popular in aquarium shows and television programs but have also been trained for military uses such as locating sea mines or detecting and marking enemy divers. In some areas, they ...
cooperate with local fishermen by driving fish toward the fishermen and eating the fish that escape the fishermen's nets. Dolphins are highly social animals and establish strong social bonds; they will stay with injured or ill members, helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed. The dolphin Moko in New Zealand has been observed guiding a female Pygmy sperm whale together with her calf out of shallow water where they had been stranded several times. Dolphins have also been seen protecting swimmers from sharks by swimming circles around the swimmers or charging the sharks to make them go away. Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans. For instance, in Australia, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were discovered teaching their young to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging. Another learned behavior was discovered among river dolphins in Brazil, where some male dolphins use weeds and sticks as part of courting behavior.
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Common Bottlenose Dolphin
Brown Rat
Brown Rat
When it comes to conducting tests related to intelligence, learning, and drug abuse, rats are a popular choice due to their high intelligence, ingenuity, aggressiveness, and adaptability. Their psychology seems in many ways similar to that of humans. Rats have a keen sense of smell and are easy to train. A working rat is a rat trained for specific tasks as a working animal. In many cases, working rats are domesticated Brown rats. However, other ...
species, notably the Gambian pouched rat, have been trained to assist humans. Gambian pouched rats are also successfully trained to detect land mines and tuberculosis with their highly developed sense of smell.
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Brown Rat
Bornean Orangutan
Bornean Orangutan
Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates. They use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. When building a nest, orangutans appear to have some technical knowledge of construction and choose branches they know can support their body weight. They may even add features, such as "pillows", "blankets", "roofs" and "bunk-beds" to their nests. There may be distinctive ...
cultures within populations. Orangutans are also real experts in developing a tool kit for use in foraging; this consisted of both insect-extraction sticks for use in the hollows of trees and seed-extraction sticks for harvesting seeds from hard-husked fruit. When foraging, orangutans may also jab at catfish with sticks so that the panicked prey would flop out of ponds and into the ape's waiting hands!
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Bornean Orangutan
African Grey Parrot
African Grey Parrot
Parrots, along with ravens, crows, jays, and magpies, are considered the most intelligent birds. They not only have demonstrated intelligence through scientific testing of their language-using ability but also some species of parrots, such as the kea, are also highly skilled at using tools and solving puzzles. Some grey parrots are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences. African grey parrots are even considered by ...
many to be one of the most intelligent species of Old World parrots. They are capable of using existing known English words to create new labels for objects which the bird does not know the name. For example "banerry" ("banana" + "cherry") for "apple", "banana crackers" for "dried banana chips" or "yummy bread" for "cake". Grey parrots are also known for their superior ability to imitate sounds and human speech, and wild individuals are able to imitate other birds. Although most parrot species are able to imitate, some of the amazon parrots are generally regarded as the next-best imitators and speakers of the parrot world.
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African Grey Parrot
Przewalski's Horse
Przewalski's Horse
Horses are another naturally curious animals and apt to investigate things they have not seen before. They are intelligent in areas such as problem-solving, speed of learning, and memory. One study has indicated that horses can differentiate between "more or less" if the quantity involved is less than four. Domesticated horses may face greater mental challenges than wild horses because they live in artificial environments that prevent ...
instinctive behavior whilst also learning tasks that are not natural. Horses are animals of habit that respond well to regimentation and respond best when the same routines and techniques are used consistently. One trainer believes that "intelligent" horses are reflections of intelligent trainers. These graceful animals are trained to be ridden or driven in a variety of sporting competitions, leisure activities, working purposes, and even therapeutic use.
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Przewalski's Horse
Great Tit
Great Tit
After the crows and parrots, tits are amongst the most intelligent of all birds. For instance, Great tits have a considerable amount of intelligence and the ability to solve problems with insight learning, that is to solve a problem through insight rather than trial and error. In England, Great tits learned to break the foil caps of milk bottles delivered at the doorstep of homes to obtain the cream at the top. This behavior, first noted in ...
1921, spread rapidly in the next two decades. In 2009, these tiny songbirds were reported killing, and eating the brains of roosting pipistrelle bats! This is the first time a songbird has been recorded preying on bats. The tits only do this during winter when the bats are hibernating and other food is scarce. Another interesting behavior is when feeding young, adults will hammer off the heads of large insects to make them easier to consume and remove the gut from caterpillars so that the tannins in the gut will not retard the chick's growth. Great tits may also use a conifer needle in the bill to extract larvae from a hole in a tree.
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Great Tit
Wild Goat
Wild Goat
Goats are naturally curious and they have been found to be as intelligent as dogs by some studies. They are capable of complex communication and able to form bonds. Goats try to communicate with people in the same manner as domesticated animals such as dogs and horses. They were first domesticated as livestock more than 10,000 years ago. Some people choose goats as a pet because of their ability to form close bonds with their human guardians; ...
because of their herd mentality, goats will follow their owners around and form close bonds with them.
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Wild Goat
Palm Cockatoo
Palm Cockatoo
These attractive intellectuals have a large and complex vocal repertoire, including many whistles and even a "hello" call that sounds surprisingly human-like. Palm cockatoos also produce a variety of additional syllables in display and exchange with neighboring individuals. These additional syllables are mainly produced by males and are often combined to form long, complex sequences. In addition to vocalizations, these birds communicate with ...
each other over large distances by drumming on a dead branch with a stick. Cockatoos may even learn new skills through social interaction.
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Palm Cockatoo
Rock Dove
Rock Dove
Since old times, pigeons have been well known for their brave services. They were used in both World War I and World War II, notably by the Australian, French, German, American, and UK forces. Domesticated Rock pigeons were also bred and trained as carrier pigeons, and also used as so-called war pigeons. They have played significant roles during wartime, including delivering urgent medicines, with many pigeons having received bravery awards and ...
medals for their services in saving hundreds of human lives, including, notably, the British pigeon Cher Ami, which received the Croix de Guerre for actions during World War I. Despite having almost lost a leg and being shot in the chest, he managed to travel around twenty-five miles to deliver the message that saved 194 men of the Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Argonne, in October 1918. In total 32 pigeons received this award, for their actions during World War II, which is more than any other species of animal!
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Rock Dove
Raccoon
Raccoon
The intelligence of these clever bandits even gave rise to the epithet "sly coon". As studies show raccoons are able to remember the solution to tasks for at least three years. In one study raccoons were able to instantly differentiate between identical and different symbols three years after the short initial learning phase. They can also distinguish boxes containing two or four grapes from those containing three. Raccoons are also so well ...
known for their dousing behavior. It even gives the animals part of their scientific name, Procyon lotor; "lotor" is Latin for "washer". In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shoreline. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of raccoons "washing" their food.
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Raccoon
Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
The use of tools is rare in birds and apart from the use of a pebble as a hammer, these clever birds of prey are also capable of using twigs to roll up wool! Egyptian vultures, especially those living in Africa, are known for their use of stones as tools. When they find a large egg, such as that of an ostrich or bustard, vultures walk up to it with a large pebble held in their bill and toss the pebble by swinging the neck down over the egg. ...
They will repeat the operation until the egg cracks from the blows. Interestingly, they prefer using rounded pebbles to jagged rocks. Egyptian vultures may also use a twig as a tool to roll up and gather strands of wool to line the nest.
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Egyptian Vulture
 Eastern Gray Squirrel
Eastern Gray Squirrel
Squirrels are not only prolific and adaptable species but these small animals are also quite clever. Gray squirrels are real champions in this. Like many members of their family, Eastern gray squirrels are scatter-hoarders; they hide food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Each squirrel may make several thousand caches each season! The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches and use distant and ...
nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Squirrels use their acute smell partly to uncover food caches, and also to find food in other squirrels' caches. They will even use deceptive behavior to prevent other animals from retrieving cached food. They will pretend to bury the object if they feel that they are being watched. Squirrels do this by preparing the spot as usual, for instance, digging a hole or widening a crack, miming the placement of the food, while actually concealing it in their mouths; then they cover up the "cache" as if they had deposited the object. They also hide behind vegetation while burying food or hide it high up in trees (if their rival is not arboreal). In fact, such a complex repertoire is not an innate behavior and implies a theory of mind thinking.
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 Eastern Gray Squirrel
Kea
Kea
Kea are known for their intelligence and curiosity, both vital to their survival in a harsh mountain environment. These large parrots can solve logical puzzles, such as pushing and pulling things in a certain order to get to food and will work together to achieve a certain objective. They have been filmed preparing and using tools. In their native range (the South Island of New Zealand) kea often attract tourists. Called "the clowns of the ...
mountains", they investigate backpacks, boots, skis, snowboards, and even cars, often causing damage or flying off with smaller items. People commonly encounter wild kea at South Island ski areas, where they are attracted by the prospect of food scraps. Their curiosity leads them to peck and carry away unguarded items of clothing, or to pry apart rubber parts of cars entertaining people. Kea are also often described as "cheeky".
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Kea
Sea Otter
Sea Otter
These adorable marine mammals are quite clever too. The Sea otters' use of rocks when hunting and feeding makes them one of the few mammal species to use tools. To open hard shells, they may pound their prey with both paws against a rock on their chest. To pry an abalone off its rock, sea otters hammer the abalone shell using a large stone, with observed rates of 45 blows in 15 seconds. Releasing an abalone, which can cling to rock with a force ...
equal to 4,000 times its own body weight, requires multiple dives. Another trick Sea otters use when they eat large sea urchins; these are mostly covered with spines so Sea otters bite through the underside where the spines are shortest, and lick the soft contents out of the urchin's shell. When eating, Sea otters roll in the water frequently, apparently this way washing food scraps from their fur.
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Sea Otter
Superb Fairywren
Superb Fairywren
Fairywrens are notable for their interesting courtship behavior. During the reproductive season, males of the Superb fairywren pluck yellow petals, which contrast with their plumage, and show them to female fairywrens. Males of the Red-backed fairywren pick red flower petals and sometimes red seeds and present them to females during courtship rituals. However, they may also present red petals to another male as an apparent act of aggression.
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Superb Fairywren