19 Most Intelligent Animals in the World

Humans have built sophisticated technologies and civilizations, earning the top spot as the smartest animals alive. However, this doesn’t take away from other animals that show amazing mental, social, and situational prowess. Here are the 19 smartest non-humans, including one with a memory better than Havard undergrads.


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Orangutans are considered the smartest animals on the planet, and it isn’t hard to see why. They share approximately 97% of their DNA with us, and, in fact, one named Sandy scored 75 on an IQ test—beating one of the human participants. They’re especially resourceful with tools, so much so that Smithsonian reports them to be better at crafting than young children.


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We know how surprised you may be to find out pigs are one of the smartest around. Yes, they have a more overwhelming reputation for being dirty, but many studies show they’re smarter than the average three-year-old child. They learn from patterns and even remember the intricacies of their environment.


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Chimpanzees may not be smarter than orangutans, but they share more DNA with us—98.8% to be exact. This is enough to know how to use tools, learn how to trade by barter, and outperform us in short-term memory tasks, CBC shares.


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Many people say that elephants never forget, and having the largest brains of any land mammal, why would they? Elephants don’t just know how to use tools; they also recognize human vocal and body language and have enough empathy to mourn their dead.


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Crows and other corvids, like ravens and jays, are so smart that they can mimic human voices. But this isn’t close to what they’re really capable of. They also show a great understanding of physics in a way that rivals the intelligence of a seven-year-old. Crows can also recognize human faces.


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Octopuses are the real definition of brain power. They have nine brains—a central brain and eight mini-brains for each of their eight arms, as reported by the Natural History Museum. What’s more, they have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any vertebrate on earth, which allows them to use tools, recognize humans, and develop into excellent escape artists.


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Rats live through life mostly by learning. They’re so smart that, in order to keep your traps effective against them, you have to change the type you use frequently. This is because they quickly learn how it works. They’re considered by some to be smarter than dogs and are known to answer to names and even learn to use litter boxes


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Pigeons are so mentally gifted that they were the favorite delivery guys of humans that lived before us. They have incredible visual abilities, which culminate in numerical and memory skills that allow them to navigate complex routes and remember individual human faces.

African Gray Parrots

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African gray parrots show their prowess in speech and vision-related cognition. They have an incredible ability to mimic human speech, and their memory is so highly rated that it is considered to be better than that of four-year-olds. In fact, a study shared by the Harvard Gazette showed it performed better than Havard undergrads in a memory test.


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Dolphins pick up new tricks easily. They’re known to engage in playful activities, so much so that they even develop their own games (like tossing seaweed among themselves, for example). Their existence in complex social groups across thousands of years takes credit for this incredible social intelligence.

Manta Rays

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These giants of the sea have the biggest brains among fish species and show a keen ability to solve problems. National Geographic has a lot to say about them; “Studies have shown that manta rays may recognize themselves in the mirror, an ability indicative of high cognitive function also shown by dolphins, primates, and elephants.”


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Like chimpanzees and orangutans, bonobos are another set of incredibly intelligent primates. The San Diego Zoo even reports that they may be the smartest in the whole world. They share many social traits with us, like working in teams for the better of the group, teaching their young ones social skills, and using sticks and rocks to reach food.


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Of course, man’s best friend makes it to our list. Dogs are said to have the intelligence of a two-and-a-half-year-old child, with the most intelligent of them learning tricks on first tries and memorizing hundreds of words. They also show enough situational awareness to be used as service animals for the blind, police, and military.


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For horses, there’s a proven ability to understand how much information someone knows. A study at Kobe University showed that they react differently to people based on whether they know where food is or not. There were attempts to guide the uninformed human to food, which infers intelligent situational awareness.


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Squirrels come with a rather cynical form of intelligence. They’re known to understand when they’re being watched and, hence, deceive who or whatever is watching them to think they’re burying nuts. They smartly mislead predators and competitors to gain an advantage in their small, cruel world.


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The small brain of ants is capable of building complex physical and social structures to survive. They collaborate excellently, designating roles for themselves (monarchs, soldiers, workers, and slaves) to solve difficult security and navigational issues. What’s more, ants also farm aphids for food, just like we rear cattle.


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Many regard bees as the smartest insects on earth—even smarter than ants. As the Washington Post shares, they “can memorize not only flowers but also human faces, solve problems by thinking rather than by trial and error, and learn to use tools by observing skilled bees.”


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Wolves are another set of socially intelligent animals on our list. They educate their young ones on how to navigate the predatory world, hunt in groups to gain an advantage, follow a leader, and take care of the injured. Wolves also have a tendency to solve problems by simply observing.

Portia Spiders

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This spider that eats other spiders has an intelligent way of fulfilling its cannibalistic desires. Portia spiders show great pattern learning and memory skills by observing their prey and developing flexible hunting strategies based on them. It’s so good that it hunts spiders three times bigger than it.

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