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What Is The Smartest Animal? (And 7 Other Contenders)

Chimpanzees get self-conscience when you put lipstick on them…and that’s actually a sign of intelligence.

Snakes, which are often depicted as some of the most cunning creatures in literature, are not smart at all, actually.

And…what about dogs and cats?

Keep scrolling to read about some of the smartest animals on earth. You’ll learn about some of the amazing things they can do, and how we measure their intelligence.

So first, let’s talk about cats and dogs.

amazing cats

There is debate on whether dogs are smarter than cats, and vice versa. The latest studies show that dogs actually seem to be smarter than cats for two reasons: (1) dogs, on average, have about twice as many neurons in the cerebral cortexes[1], and (2) dogs are far easier to train and get to obey commands.

As mentioned, debate still brews among dog and cat lover scientists. But whatever the case, it remains that both cats and dogs are very intelligent animals. In fact, they appear to be some of the most intelligent mammals on the planet.

So, with that out of the way, are there any animals that are smarter than cats and dogs?

The answer is…yes. There are several mammals that appear to be smarter than both of these beloved pets.

These are the top five most intelligent animals:  

  1. Crows


Surprised to find crows on the list? Don’t be! Crows are very intelligent animals.

Crows can fashion tools from materials found in the wild. They protect one another, socially interact (and manipulate social interactions), and hide food for the future.

Here’s an interesting fact: crows living in cities sometimes gather nuts from nearby trees and place them on roads during red lights. Then, during green lights, the cars crunch over the nuts, breaking the shells open. Once the light turns red again, the crows retrieve the nuts from within the broken shells.

In one study, a scientist gathered children under eight-years-old and adult crows. In front of each subject, the scientist placed a glass filled with water. A toy floated inside the glass, but the neither the crows nor children could fit their hands into the opening to retrieve the toy.

Most of the children under simply gave up, not knowing how to get the toy. But the crows retrieved small pebbles and dropped them into the glass so that the water (and thus toy) would rise. The toy eventually bobbled out of the glass. Amazing!

  1. Octopi


Octopi (the plural form of octopus) are extremely smart. Despite being invertebrates (most invertebrates don’t have this kind of intelligence), they can solve problems, unscrew jars, and navigate through mazes.

The octopus is known for being curious. It’s also known for being somewhat of a mystery to science. Nonetheless, the octopus has been proven to be very smart in multiple studies.

One study even showed that octopi can distinguish between friendly and impersonal people.

  1. Elephants

Photo by AJ Robbie on Unsplash

Those who have spent quality time with an elephant often attest to the animal’s intelligence. Elephants are super smart.

Elephants have 5.6 billion neurons in their cerebral cortexes (the cerebral cortex controls consciousness and information processing). That’s not as many as humans have, but it’s still quite a lot.

Elephants comfort relatives, help other species, and communicate with each other via feet vibrations. A female Asian elephant named Happy even recognized herself in the mirror…but more on that in a moment.

What’s more, elephants can obey commands and have amazing memories. They can even distinguish between languages and whether a man, woman, or child is talking.

  1. Dolphins


Dolphins are commonly known to be extremely smart creatures. But just how smart are they?

To answer that question, I’ll go back to that Asian elephant, Happy, who recognized herself in the mirror. This is significant because Happy, in doing this, demonstrated that she was conscious of her existence, i.e. she understood that she was a present being.

This leads to a lot of implications. If an animal (like us) can recognize itself in the mirror, then it may have a concept of time, morality, and so on. It’s a crucial way to measure intelligence.

Dolphins always notice themselves in the mirror. And that’s one reason dolphins are held to be so smart.

There are other reasons. Dolphins have a complex language compared to other animals. They are social. And they’re easy to train.

  1. Chimpanzees


The number one spot goes to the chimpanzee.

One of the reasons we know chimpanzees are so smart is because of that same mirror test. Scientists have put lipstick on chimpanzees, shown them a mirror, and the chimps wipe the lipstick off. They get self-conscious!

Chimps build tools, hunt in packs, and are empathetic. They also have incredible memories.

Here is one study that testifies to their intelligence: scientists gave adult chimps, young chimps, and college students the same memory test. Numbers (1-9) were shown on a touch screen for a split second, and each subject attempted to identify where the numbers had appeared most accurately.

Here’s the shocking thing: the young chimps remembered where the numbers had appeared with more accuracy than the college students!

Chimpanzees are widely considered the smartest animal.

[1] That’s what some studies show. Other studies show the opposite, and other studies vary in different ways. The data is constantly changing.

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