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Smartest Animals: 15 Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet

The animal kingdom is truly fascinating. Animals are truly remarkable creatures. But have you ever asked yourself, what are the smartest animals in the world? We’ve got the answer for you right here.

Smartest Animals

Did you know there are more than 8.7 million animal species in the world! That’s an astonishing number. So it stands to reason that within the millions … and millions (channeling my inner Rock) of animals, there will be a range of intelligence levels. So what are the smartest animals on this planet? That’s a good question and one we are going to answer.

From the land to the sea, and even in the air, animals are all around us. They are a part of our daily lives, from the pets we keep to the pests we chase away. Some of the first words we try and teach our children are animal names.

The animal kingdom is a fascinating place, and there is a lot we do not know ourselves when it comes to animal intelligence. It can be hard measuring animal intelligence, however, in the coming paragraphs, we will list the smartest animals known to man. We will discuss domestic and wild species and think a little broader about what intelligence means regarding animals and their behavior.

So, without further waffle, let’s dive right in and see which are the smartest animals on the planet.

Five Smartest Animals Animals on Land

The land is home to a great many animal species. From the tiniest insects to the most massive mammals. But have you ever asked yourself what are the most intelligent animals?

We had to whittle down a long shortlist, but the following five examples capture creatures on the upper echelons of animal intelligence. Of course, it goes without saying that while humans are animals, we are not included on this list.

Now, onwards with our list of the smartest animals to ever walk the earth.

Rats

Rats

To most people, rats are disgusting, dirty creatures. They spread disease – bubonic blague, anybody? – and are generally nasty animals, right?

Well, not quite. Rats are actually very intelligent creatures. They are cunning and devious and have proven more beneficial to humanity than many other species.

In studies, rats have proven their ability to solve problems by finding shortcuts and extorting loopholes to get through mazes and labyrinths designed by some of the best human minds. Rats have also helped detect TB in human patients and sniff out landmines in booby-trapped fields.

That is why the common rat beat out so many other species for a place on the list.

Did you know rats are one of the few animals to have colonized every country!

Pigs

Pigs

When thinking about the smartest animals in the world, the pig almost immediately comes to mind. Both wild and domestic pigs have shown the uncanny ability to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive.

These omnivorous creatures have the intelligence needed to thrive as a species, outcompeting native species wherever they place their trotters. Pigs can follow human commands and learn different instructions.

Studies into pigs have also shown they have advanced cognitive skills allowing them to use mirrors to solve puzzles in order to find food.

Pigs are just as smart as human children and are considered more intelligent than all species of dog.

Elephants

Elephants

An elephant never forgets. While that statement isn’t likely to be completely accurate, it has some validity. Elephants have an incredible memory and can remember up to thirty different fellow pachyderms. Amazingly, they do this through the scent of their urine.

An elephant brain weighs close to 5kg and has three times the number of neurons as a human brain. In tests, elephants have been able to recognize their reflection and have the capacity to grieve the loss of their loved ones.

If that isn’t enough, elephants can use tools and even recognize body language in humans.

Orangutans

Orangutan

If we consider ourselves the most intelligent beings on earth, and if we share 96% DNA commonality with the great apes, they must surely be intelligent.

Everybody knows that orangutans are one of the most intelligent animals, but just how smart are they?

They can create and use tools and demonstrate the advanced ability to weigh up the concept of cost versus reward. In fact, they are better at both than most human toddlers.

Orangutans have developed highly advanced cognitive skills, possibly due to their living arrangements. They live in widely scattered communities and needed to develop these skills to survive.

Did you know that there have been examples of orangutans learning sign language to communicate!

Chimpanzees

Chimpanzee

If there is one animal capable of living alongside humans, it would be chimpanzees. Undoubtedly the smartest animal, their propensity for learning stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Not only do chimpanzees have the ability to make and use tools, but they also create step-by-step processes by which they achieve the same result every time. For example, they have also been seen to throw rocks and self-made spears as weapons for both attack and defense.

Chimpanzees are also capable of communicating through sign language. On top of that, they have shown the ability to create symbols that they string together to pass on ideas—effectively creating their own symbolic language!

In tests, researchers gave adult chimps memory tasks to solve, and the chimps beat human opponents taking the same cognitive test.

Chimps even take pride in their achievements and understand when they perform well at something, such as a test or solving a complex problem.

Five Most Intelligent Animals in the Ocean

Intelligence abounds in the rivers and oceans of the world.  From the smallest plankton to the largest sharks, the ocean is a treasure trove of life. We have a deep-rooted and long-lasting association with the sea and its many mysteries. In fact, there is so much we are yet to even learn about the ocean. Vast expanses are still to be explored, with their secrets yet to be unlocked.

You only need to take a stroll through your local aquarium to get a genuine appreciation of the intelligence swimming around in our oceans. It might very well be a different form than the human brain can comprehend. However, intellect recognizes itself even when it doesn’t fully understand what it sees.

So, with that in mind, grab your snorkel and pull up your wetsuit because we’re about to head out into deep water in search of the smartest animals beneath the waves.

Great White Shark

Great White Shark

The baddest fish in the sea, the great white shark, is also a highly intelligent creature. While they may not understand abstract representations like other animals on this list, the great white’s brain is a powerful tool indeed.

A hunter through and through their brain manages everything, aligning all of their senses to make them the ultimate predator that they are.

The sharks have also been shown to use rudimentary forms of communication with one another when swimming in groups. Great white sharks are possibly the ultimate animal, equal parts intelligent and terrifying.

Manta Ray

Manta Ray

You might be wondering why the manta ray is included in this list. Well, recent research has given scientists a whole new insight into the intellectual abilities of these fish.

Not only do they have a brain that is larger than any other fish species, they know how to use it. Studies indicate they can study and understand communication, learning, and even problem-solving.

A very social animal, they are playful and curious by nature. Should they come across humans in the wild, they will often approach them and deliberately seek out interaction.

Manta rays are also one of the only marine animals considered to have a degree of self-awareness, which puts them in very rare and intelligent company.

Did you know that a manta ray is able to recognize its own reflection?

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

Orcas – let’s drop the killer moniker for a bit – are wonderfully intelligent animals. They may not be regarded as one of the world’s smartest creatures; however, that just means they are not understood.

The Orca brain is around four times larger than a human and is the second-largest brain stem of any creature. While there is not necessarily a direct link between brain size and intelligence, one only needs to study these majestic whales in their natural environment to understand their smarts.

They have even been seen to use body language and ‘spy hopping’ to surface from the water, take a look at their surroundings and warn other whales in their social group of any threats. Their intelligence goes beyond the simple ability to be trained to understand human commands.

In a similar way to dolphins, killer whales have shown themselves to be a highly advanced form of mammal, passing down knowledge through their generations.

Octopus

Octopus

The octopus is a truly unique individual. Their DNA is unlike any other animal species ever seen before and has led some to hypothesize that they are not of this earth.

Alien or not, one thing is for sure, they are one of the most intelligent animals ever discovered. They rival human beings in learning and understanding concepts other animals cannot.

To highlight the intelligence of this delightful species, octopi can change the color of their skin. Unlike other creatures, they do this not just for defense but in a way of expressing their mood.

Octopi also demonstrate the ability to make eye contact with human trainers and have even been able to solve complex problems. There have even been examples of these highly intelligent animals using water to flick switches on and off.

The octopus brain even has a dedicated learning center.

Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins are, without a doubt, a highly intelligent animal, not just in the ocean but in the world as a whole. The intelligence of dolphins goes beyond their propensity to learn tricks for our amusement. Studies have shown that their brains have spindle neurons. These are specialized brain cells that have strong ties to memory, reason, and communication, to name a few.

Did you know the average dolphin brain weighs 3.5 pounds? That’s heavier than a human brain.

Dolphins are incredibly social animals and have developed a complex communication system that allows them to stay in touch.

When you factor in the fact that they have a developed limbic system that is more advanced than ours, it confirms their ability to feel empathy and concern for others of their kind. Much like the manta ray, dolphins are also capable of self-awareness.

Five Smartest Animals in the Air

Birds are incredible, beautiful creatures whose capacity to astound is greatly misunderstood by many. Flight is something man strived to achieve for centuries. Even now, we are obsessed with getting off the ground and taking to the skies. We are not saying that birds are more intelligent animals than humans just because they can fly. After all, biology plays a large part in that.

However, looking beyond the ability to fly, there is a vast amount of intelligence in our feathered friends. From mimicry to memory, birds have a seemingly endless capacity to surprise us.

So, strap your seatbelts, and return your tray tables to their upright positions because we are taking off to meet some of the most intelligent animals ever to grace the skies.

Crows

Crow

You might not immediately think of crows when considering the most intelligent animals in the world, yet they are truly remarkable creatures with exceedingly high intelligence.

They have demonstrated high-level skills for problem solving and reasoning. Research has even shown they crows are capable of understanding causality. As a result, many scientists class them as the most intelligent beings, even ranking above the great apes and dolphins.

In addition, they are one of a few species of animal with the astonishing ability to recognize human faces.

Did you know there have been countless examples tool use among crows especially to go fishing!

Ravens

Raven

Ravens come from the same family as crows and show similar levels of intelligence. They are adept problem solvers and possess the ability to use tools to achieve their goals. In addition, ravens have been seen working in pairs and employing distraction techniques to achieve their goals. This shows the ability to take a complex idea and execute it together.

Certainly, one of the smartest creatures, ravens, can mimic human words and communicate with each other using a multitude of vocalizations.

Ravens have been seen to lead wolves to a carcass, getting them to tear open the hide sp that the birds could get to the flesh within.

African Grey Parrot

African Grey Parrot

Everybody knows about African grey parrots and their outstanding language comprehension skills. However, there is even more to these intelligent beings than just their ability to imitate human words.

While many may consider them essentially woodland animals with the ability to talk, African greys have the intelligence levels of 4-year-old children. They can deploy logic and reasoning for complex concepts and advanced problem solving and use powers of deduction and elimination to pass intelligence tests, such as finding hidden food.

African grey parrots live in complex social groups and work together to survive as a group.

Cockatoos

Cockatoo

Another animal with the ability to mimic human speech, Cockatoos are another representative of our feathered friends with high intellectual capacities.

Cockatoos can demonstrate forward-thinking and seem to understand the concept of resisting temptation now for the promise of a greater reward later. This is probably one test where they outperformed humans.

The brainpower of these birds is definitely a most amazing feature and shows the depth of their intelligence.

Jays

Jay

In many parts of the world, jays are a common sight, swooping down into backyards and standing at bird feeders. However, unlike many other birds, the intelligence of Jays is a marvel that continues to astound.

They are an impressive example of aviary intelligence. Not only do they have the ability to fashion and use tools for their own gain, but they have the incredible ability to plan ahead.

While many smart animals on this list have demonstrated the ability to reason, it is another step forward in animal innovation for a creature to be able to plan. Yet Jays have been noticed doing just that.

For example, they will look ahead to decide what they will eat the next day and even go as far as to plan when and where they will get their desired breakfast.

What Does Intelligence Mean in the Animal Kingdom

Cognitive Abilities in Different Animals

When thinking about intelligence and the smartest animals on the planet, it is essential to fully grasp what we mean by the word intelligent. No animals are capable of holding down a dynamic conversation with us humans. So does that make them dumb? No, because they all have ways to communicate with us and, more importantly, with each other.

No, if we want to talk about smart animals, we need to accept that our own understanding of life does not make us the only intelligent creatures around. If anything, our views are restrictive and limit us as a species. However, that is probably an article for another day.

Intelligent animals are all around us. From their ability to perform complex tastes, or learn sign language, to the cognitive ability to think ahead and plan for different eventualities. Many species of animals form strong social bonds within their ranks and have proven to be able to solve problems, either alone or as part of a collective.

Final Thoughts on the Smartest Animals in the World

There you have it, our list of the smartest animals. But, of course, with close to 9 million species identified on the planet, this is by no means the definitive list. Science is constantly discovering new species. Then, considering evolution, who knows how intelligent animals could become.

If you feel we have missed off an animal that, in your eyes, is smarter than the average bear, let us know in the comments. Perhaps you have your own smart animal story that you would like to share with us? Have you been swimming with dolphins, or maybe you trained a crow to sound like your mother to get you out of gym class? Whatever it is, we would love for you to share it with us.