20 Smartest Animals in the World

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Are parrots really smarter than a 3-year-old child? Do pigs really sing to their young? Do elephants really bury their dead and visit the graves of their relatives? Humans have always considered ourselves the smartest creatures on Earth, but new research has revealed that other animals are much smarter than we ever thought possible. Here are the 20 smartest animals in the world:

  1. Chimpanzees: Chimpanzees are very closely related to human beings, so it makes sense that they would have the ability to manipulate their environment, use tools and work together as a group to accomplish tasks. Over 99 percent of the chimpanzee genetic code is identical to humans. While they may look very different, chimpanzees and humans are remarkably similar in terms of communication, social structure and the ability to learn. Chimpanzees and their new world ape relatives are some of the smartest animals on Earth.
  2. Parrots: We all know "Polly, want a cracker," but parrots are much more intelligent than their typical repetition may suggest. Parrots are not only capable of repeating human phrases with accuracy, they are also capable of understanding the meaning of words and sentences and using the information contained in them to solve problems. Parrots and other birds have very small brains, but they use their brains in a different way than humans and are able to recall information and store memories from very early in their lives. It seems that repeating human words is only the first of many tricks parrots have up their sleeves.
  3. Dogs: Man's best friend is also one of the smartest species of all time. Specific breeds, such as border collies, Labrador retrievers, poodles and German shepherds, are known for their intelligence. Many dog breeds have been intentionally bred to respond to human training, but others are just naturally inquisitive and curious about their surroundings, like Jack Russell terriers and some other smaller breeds. No matter how big or small, dogs are a huge part of our lives and will remain our closest companions for many years to come because of their intelligence.
  4. Octopuses: Octopi are by far the smartest of all invertebrates. They are skilled hunters who use their ink to disorient their victims before killing them with their nimble tentacles. Octopi are incredibly resourceful, and those kept in captivity frequently break out of their aquariums and break into others in search of food. They also have been known to hitchhike onto fishing boats and break into their holds to eat the catch! And who could forget Paul, the World Cup octopus, who correctly predicted the winner of every match of the World Cup Finals by choosing between two boxes, each containing food and the logo of one of the two teams competing. Ultimately, their short lifespan limits their intelligence, but octopi are very intelligent and nimble problem solvers that have mastered their environment.
  5. Rats: Rats get a bad wrap, so much so that we sometimes drastically underestimate just how smart these critters really are. Rats have been studied extensively in science, and in addition to surprising physical abilities, rats have been shown to be ingenious problem solvers with long memories. Maze tests have shown that rats have excellent long-term memory and the ability to adapt to changing situations. It's no wonder rats have survived for generations, and it's no surprise that they will continue to thrive for many years to come.
  6. Elephants: 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 use this brain to create 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.
  7. Cats: Most of us know cats as skilled hunters with incredible agility and amazing sensory ability. What many don't know is just how smart these animals really are. Cats are a learning species, capable of learning a variety of tasks through mimicry and trial and error. Cats can be toilet trained, taught to open doors and windows and have even been shown to teach themselves to use a can opener to open a can of cat food! Cats are incredible hunters, and, like their larger relatives, they are capable of working together to bring down prey and can establish social structures in times of need. These animals are truly remarkable — no wonder humans are so attached to our furry friends.
  8. Bottlenose Dolphins: Dolphins are intriguing animals. In terms of body mass to brain ratio, dolphins have one of the largest brains in the animal kingdom. Research has indicated that dolphins are incredibly self-aware, which means that a dolphin can recognize itself in the mirror and may be interested in its surroundings in the same manner humans are. Dolphins have also been shown to have complicated social structures and advanced communication ability. New research has tried to bridge the communication gap between humans and dolphins by replicating the sounds dolphins use to communicate and translating them into questions. Remarkably, the dolphins have responded to these questions with an incredibly high accuracy level, reflecting their ability to think and deduce. Dolphins may be the most intelligent animals on Earth next to humans, but more research needs to be done to understand just how smart they really are.
  9. Pigs: Pigs have a reputation as dirty animals. But that doesn't mean they are stupid. In reality, they are extremely intelligent. And for the record, they aren't particularly dirty, either. Research has shown that pigs may be as smart as a 3-year-old human child. There is even some indication that pigs dream and that mother pigs sing to their young as they nurse. Pigs lead complex social lives and often compete with one another to learn new skills, usually related to gathering food, as well as jumping and running. So, while pigs definitely have a somewhat negative reputation, we may need to give our big pink friends a little more respect, as they are proving to be smarter than we ever thought.
  10. Horses: Horses and humans have always had a unique relationship. We have depended on their strength for generations, but one thing we haven't paid as much attention to until recently is how smart these animals are. Horses evolved as prey animals, but they are not merely instinctual runners. They developed incredibly complicated social structures in which leaders must be chosen and remembered, and often the leaders are not the strongest or fastest of the herd, but the most experienced and intelligent. This indicates that horses are capable of thinking and making decisions, which makes sense due to the unpredictable environment they live in. Not only are horses beautiful and strong, they are also extremely smart and important allies of humans.
  11. Squirrels: These lovable little rascals may too often end up as road kill, but they are smarter than we normally give them credit. Not only do they typically live in complicated colonies and save excess food, but they also have exceptional memory and recognition abilities. The next time one of these little guys steals food from your birdfeeder, just remember that they are a lot more resourceful and intelligent than they often get credit for.
  12. Raccoons: Raccoons are well known as mischievous and crafty animals, and this may be a glimpse into how intelligent these animals can be. 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 and are more than capable of using tools and solving problems using their paws. Raccoons are tricky animals that should be recognized for their creativity and resourcefulness.
  13. Crows: The crow is more than a jet-black bird we all recognize. Recent research has shown that crows are extremely intelligent and capable of solving complicated puzzles. Crows can use their beaks in incredible ways, and, when it comes to finding food, there may be no bird more resourceful and creative than a crow. One fascinating new discovery is the way in which crows interact. Crows have been seen playing tricks on one another, startling relatives and cawing in unique dialects only family members can recognize. They are also adept at using tools, a trademark characteristic of intelligence. We don't typically think of crows as smart, but clearly we need to change our perception of this interesting bird.
  14. Pigeons: Sometimes referred to as flying rats, 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. The next time you have the opportunity to feed the pigeons, just remember that they are much more than panhandling opportunists.
  15. Orangutans: Orangutans are extremely smart animals. Some of their most impressive skills come from imitation of human actions. Orangutans have been taught to saw wood, use a hammer to nail structures together and even siphon liquids through a hose. But even more remarkable than the mere replication of human actions is the orangutan's 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. It's easy to see how these animals are so closely related to us.
  16. Whales: Whales are huge, but are they as intelligent as they are massive? New research seems to indicate that they are. Perhaps the most striking area of whale intelligence is in their use of communication. The whale's use of complex sounds that can be heard for hundreds of miles indicates a species of incredible intelligence. Specific whale songs have been heard at specific points of the lunar cycle, and sometimes whales can sing a song which lasts an hour or more, only to have the song answered by another whale 300 miles away by repeating the exact same hour long song! Whales are very intelligent creatures and before we drive them to extinction we should recognize just how smart they can be.
  17. Monkeys : We all know how nimble the monkey can be, but these animals may be much smarter than we previously thought. Recent insight into the social interactions of monkeys reveals a social structure that would make our own soap operas look predictable and boring. One such observation recalled how one monkey used "Machiavellian" tactics to take over a hoard of females and gain control of a large segment of the community, only to be ousted from power by a revolt from those he used to get to the top. That kind of scientific observation sounds more like a gangster movie than research into how monkeys interact, but in fact it may reveal how smart and cunning these animals can be in order to survive.
  18. Sheep: Don't believe that sheep are intelligent? Think again. It's shown that sheep have one of the most powerful memories of any animals on Earth, and this memory goes much farther than the ability to recall. Sheep have been observed experiencing powerful emotional responses when shown images of long lost flock members. These emotional responses reveal that sheep not only recall images, but also understand and interpret them in a way that was once thought to be uniquely human. Perhaps our wooly friends deserve a bit more respect than we give them.
  19. Falcons: Falcons are the stealthy hunters known for preying on animals as large as house cats with an incredibly fast and devastating attack. But is there more to the falcon than talons? The ancient practice of falconry may reveal the answer. For centuries humans have trained falcons to obey commands, retrieve prey and deliver messages. The incredible memory of the falcon has made it a very capable workhorse for humans, and falconry has continued well into the modern era. While many species of falcon are currently endangered, wildlife conservationists have gone out of their way to protect this beautiful bird, partly because we recognize just how smart and loyal it can be.
  20. Owls: Owls have a long history beneath their wings. Ancient Greeks considered the nocturnal bird to be full of wisdom, but they later became known as harbingers of evil, death and bad luck in Africa and the Americas. Despite its mixed associations, most people generally associate owls with wisdom. These skilled and stealthy birds of prey hunt primarily on wing with their exceptional vision, keen senses and camouflaged bodies. Owls have an important role in the animal kingdom, as well as in human life by controlling the rodent population on properties in a natural form of pest control. These beautiful creatures have been the target for poachers and hunters for some time now, leading to serious conservation concerns for the animals. It's important to keep the owl population alive and well because we can learn a thing or two from these all-knowing creatures that guard the night.
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