We humans like to consider ourselves the most intelligent animals on the planet. However, some would argue that we are only top of the ecological ladder, in theory, because of our fabulous opposable thumbs. Either way, there really does seem to be intelligent life out there, besides those of us who know how to operate a smartphone. Some of these animals on the list are no big news since most of us consider them to be intelligent already, however a few of them are quite surprising. There is a little extra information about the surprises to help explain their presence on the list.
One of the surprises! Who knew that this misunderstood sea creature was so smart? Researchers are continually learning about the abilities that the octopus has. So far they have learned that these animals can solve problems, unravel mazes, and even have decent short term memory capacity. They do have the largest brain of any invertebrate on earth. It is comparable to that of certain parrots who can be taught to mimic and understand dozens of words. One physical way to determine intelligence is through neuron numbers. While a human has approximately 100 billion, it has been estimated that an octopus has around 130 billion, three fifths of which are in its arms. That means that their arms literally have minds of their own.
These poor birds have been referred to as “rats with wings”. However, they are actually quite smart. Their memory is quite remarkable – they can recognize hundreds of unique images and photos, they can learn routes over long distances (think about the carrier or homing pigeons), they can even recognize their own face in a mirror. Some research has indicated that pigeons could be as smart as the average three year old human child. They have been able to demonstrate abilities during testing to remember and perform certain acts in order to obtain the food prize.
“That’ll do pig.” If you have seen the movie Babe, you are not surprised that pigs made the list of intelligent animals. According to scientists, they seem to have an especially high emotional intelligence. They are very sociable, can get bored easily, are sensitive, can experience hurt feelings, and are very trainable. Not only can they be taught tricks such as jumping hoops and herding sheep, but they are also slow to forget once they’ve learned. In lab settings, they are capable of playing video games even better than the number one animal on this list. Studies have shown that they recognize their own name and even experience dreams.
Anyone who owns one of these will swear that they are smart. And they really are! They are extremely sociable with humans, very trainable, and can learn obedience commands. They will remember human and animal faces that they have previously encountered, can experience jealousy, and have long term memory (nearly a life time) for someone who has hurt them in the past. Granted, some breeds are more intelligent than others, but most dogs display a certain level of intelligence. Generally, the Border Collie is ranked number one on the specific dog list.
Not just another pretty face! Parrots are considered the world’s smartest birds. The feats they can accomplish with just their beaks are amazing. They can be taught to mimic human words. However, they can not only mimic the words but they can comprehend the meanings, can retain many words, and can create sentences. The African grey parrot is specifically regarded as the most intelligent bird in the world. When you consider how many types of birds there are, that is quite an accolade!
Love them or hate them, rats are on the list too! There is a good reason that they are used in laboratory experiments. They are renowned for navigating mazes, finding loopholes, locating shortcuts, and creating escape routes. Not only can they learn these skills, but they do a decent job of retaining that learned knowledge. Their cognitive abilities seem to be very well developed, and they are quite trainable. They, like most animals on this list, respond best to positive reinforcement.
We’ve all heard that sayings that refer to sheep as nothing more than mindless creatures who just follow the herd. However, researchers are discovering that sheep have a nearly unmatched sense of instinctive ability and intelligence. When threatened, they will form large groups and flee en masse. Sheep can recall and identify both human and animal faces. In controlled tests, they have learned tasks in about the same amount of time that it took monkeys and humans to complete the same tasks. They have also demonstrated problem solving skills such as overcoming cattle guards.
Most of us already know that dolphins are considered very intelligent. They are exceedingly social creatures and can locate family members separated by miles of ocean. They have their very own language with which to communicate. One of the most remarkable facts about dolphins is that they never sleep. Like many on this list, they can recognize themselves in a mirror. They can solve simple problems; they experience a basic range of emotions; and can identify human children from human adults and tend to exhibit more patience and gentleness with children.
Studies have shown that these gentle giants have the innate ability to use tools in creative methods without prior instruction. They have been observed cleaning their food and using tools in the wild but can also obey commands when in captivity. One of the most notable behaviors of the elephant is their capacity to mourn their dead. They will demonstrate these rituals over several days, and will even repeat them if they pass over the place where a family member died. Their memory is legendary. There is anecdotal evidence that elephant herds share a cultural memory that can even surpass their normally natural instincts. They show signs of being self-aware.
1. Primates (Gorillas and Chimpanzees)
The intelligence of these animals is rivaled only by our own. Because of how closely they resemble humans physically and mentally, they have long transfixed scientists and researchers. They have been successfully taught to use sign language to communicate and can recall the name of individual people that they have not encountered in years. There have even been studies showing that primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees can set goals, remember them for a reasonable amount of time, and follow through when given the opportunity.
As a small bonus feature, here is a quick list of some of the dumbest animals on earth, just to offer a comparison. There are obviously conflicting opinions online, however these seem to make most of the lists – the Afghan Hound, worms, snails, chickens, domesticated turkeys, and goldfish. Compared to the animals on our intelligence list, a goldfish can only retain information for approximately three seconds. Even your boss can remember something longer than that.
So we may still be the only species on the planet walking around with Apple iPods and Android phones and Google tablets, however some of the animals on this list may be well on their way to developing their very own 4G devices. But in the meantime, it certainly sounds like we can teach some of them to use our gadgets! Or they could teach us!