25 Most Intelligent Animals On Earth That Might Surprise You

Posted by , Updated on March 24, 2024

Ever pondered about the smartest creatures on our planet? Studies indicate that animals have more intelligence than we often attribute to them. In certain aspects, they may even surpass our own intelligence levels! In this article, we will present to you the 25 Most Intelligent Animals on Earth, a list that might astonish you.

As a side note, testing and evaluating animal intelligence is very difficult. Comparing and contrasting the results across different species is almost impossible and can be highly subjective. Therefore, this list is not ranked. Rather, we are highlighting animals that have shown surprising levels of intelligence. Also, humans are not being considered in this list other than to act as a standard of intelligence.




AntSource: time.com

It might be surprising to see these tiny insects on the list, but scientific studies suggest ants really are remarkably intelligent creatures. For example, when an individual ant finds a food source, it will take a bit of the food back to the nest, leaving a trail of pheromones behind to mark the path so that other ants from the colony can find the food source too.



Crow in black and whiteSource: themysteriousworld.com

Boasting one of the largest brains of all birds, the crow is famous for sophisticated ways of finding food and building nests. Crows are intelligent enough to recognize human faces and to hide their food from other birds. They are also known for using different tools (e.g. small stones and pebbles) to their own advantages.



Cute OtterSource: ibtimes.com

Carnivorous mammals that can be aquatic, semi-aquatic or marine, otters have always been known for their intelligence. However, it wasn’t until recently when it was discovered that their skills to use tools was likely acquired millions of years ago. That is much earlier in history than dolphins’ similar skill set, which first appeared around 200 years ago.



Octopus4Source: theguardian.com

Octopi have half a billion neurons (almost as many as dogs), and their brains are very large relative to their size. In captivity, they have learned to navigate simple mazes, solve puzzles, and open screw-top jars, while wild animals have been observed stacking rocks to protect the entrances to their dens. A recent experiment confirmed anecdotal reports that octopi are able to recognize – and even like or dislike – individual humans, even those that are dressed identically.


Sea Lions

SeaLion2Source: news.vanderbilt.edu

A marine mammal found from subarctic to tropical waters, the sea lion has an extremely large brain and a very complex nervous system, which makes it one of the smartest aquatic animals in the world. Through a series of specially designed IQ tests, a California sea lion named Rio even became one of few animals to use basic logic.



Adorable dogSource: livescience.com

With average mental abilities similar to those of a 2-year-old baby, dogs are one of the most intelligent animals and smartest pets overall. The smartest breeds (border collie, poodle, and German shepherd) are capable of learning up to 250 words, signals, and gestures. According to a study carried out by the canine expert Stanley Coren, most dogs would even beat 4-year-old humans in basic arithmetic and social skills.



Blue JaySource: welcomewildlife.com

Energetic and noticeably intelligent birds, jays are the only animal besides humans who plan their actions based on how they think they’ll feel in the future. Studies have shown jays plan what kind of food they’ll want for breakfast the next morning, how much and where they’ll consume it. Then they store away the right amount in the right place. A captive jay was also observed to use a scrap of paper from the bottom of his cage as a tool to reach a pile of food outside its cage.



Squirrel Source: atlasobscura.com

Squirrels have always been considered very smart creatures. They are even known for their creative methods of getting into bird feeders. However, what makes them different from other intelligent animals is their unique ability to deceive. A recent scientific study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive or even paranoid behavior. When being watched, they’ll construct fake caches to bury a fake nut while keeping the real nut in a pocket near their armpit.


Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee Source: newscientist.com

Despite having a brain the size of a poppy seed, the bumble bee is a surprisingly smart insect. They keep their nests at a constant temperature, avoid foraging close to home for fear of leading predators to it, and can even become paranoid for fear of camouflaged predators. Moreover, when pollinating flowers, these insects can solve a fiendish navigational problem that even our computers struggle to crack as they will always find the most efficient route.



TuskfishSource: discovermagazine.com

Most people don’t associate intelligence with fishes, but scientists have found that not only can fishes perceive their environments using complex senses, but that they can also coordinate hunts, remember and learn (sometimes better than rats and toddlers), and even use tools. The black-spotted tuskfish, for example, has got its feeding routine down to a science. It clamps a clam in its mouth and whams it into the rock until the clam shell breaks.



ChimpSource: nationalgeographic.com

Arguably the smartest animal after humans, the chimpanzee is famous for its extraordinary intelligence. These great apes can learn words, play with objects, and even feel emotions such as mourning the deaths of their friends. The chimps have amazing cognitive abilities and are believed to be very active thinkers. Scientists estimate that about 50% of their intelligence is heritable.


Humpback Whales

Hump back whaleSource: sciencedaily.com

Belonging to cetaceans, a group of highly intelligent marine mammals, the humpback whale is one of the smartest creatures living in the sea. Scientists discovered that this animal’s brain even contains a certain type of neuron cell that can only be found in humans. The humpback is also considered the “superhero of the sea” as it is known to protect other animals (such as seals or sunfish) from predators. This unusual behavior might be completely altruistic.



Rat eating from spoonSource: care2.com

Some people regard the rat as nothing but an invasive vermin. Others, however, value this small rodent as a highly intelligent and entertaining pet. It’s been discovered that rats are able to perform a variety of tasks such as mastering puzzles, running through mazes, or playing fetch. They can even show empathy and compassion for their fellow rats when they are in distress – qualities that are very rarely attributed to animals.



ParrotSource: dailymail.co.uk

Known for their abilities to use tools and learn up to hundreds of words, parrots are among the smartest birds on Earth. Scientists recently discovered that a captive bred Goffin’s cockatoo is even able to resist the temptation of eating an immediate food item in order to trade it for a better reward down the line. Psychologists say such aptitude could be considered signs of economic decision making and are rarely found outside humans.



CuttlefishSource: leisurepro.com

Just like the octopus, squid, or nautilus, the cuttlefish is a cephalophod – a molluscan class that have been around for hundreds of millions of years. With a highly advanced nervous system and one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates, the cuttlefish is among the most intelligent ocean species and undisputed masters of disguise. The mollusks are known for their incredibly creative defensive techniques, and some species can even hypnotize their prey.



Mother elephantSource: elephantsforever.co.za

Considering the enormous size of the elephant’s brain (over 5 kg or 11 lb), it comes as no surprise that these giant mammals are among the smartest creatures on Earth. They are capable of a range of emotions, including joy, playfulness, grief, and mourning. Elephants are also able to learn new facts and behaviors, mimic sounds they hear, self-medicate, play with a sense of humor, perform artistic activities, use tools, and display compassion and self-awareness.



GorillaSource: berggorilla.org

Just like chimpanzees, gorillas are also highly intelligent great apes, but there are many differences between these two species. Gorillas are calmer, more reserved, and patient. They are less adaptable and curious than chimpanzees, and they don’t show the same inclination to imitate. It is still disputed whether gorillas are conscious of their own identity, but they have been found to be able to use sign language.



playful catSource: smithsonianmag.com

Cats are famous for their stunning individuality and aloofness; it’s these traits that make it so hard for scientists to measure their intelligence. Most attempts to study the felines’ minds have been spoiled by the cats’ preferences to be doing something else. Scientists, however, estimate that cats are probably as intelligent as dogs.



Happy dolphinSource: understanddolphins.tripod.com

Renowned for their extraordinary intelligence, dolphins can perform many impressive behaviors. They are capable of behavioral mimicry (i.e. imitating behaviors demonstrated by their human trainers and other animals). Dolphins have been shown to recognize themselves in a mirror; they are aware of their own recent behaviors; and they can even experience emotions.



OrangutanSource: inverse.com

As creepy as it sounds, orangutans share 97% of the same genetic material as humans. In fact, they are even susceptible to human diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and some cardiovascular diseases. There was an orangutan named Chantek who was rejected by his mother and raised as a human. At only 9 months of age, he was able to sign words and thoughts. By the age of 4, Chantek was improvising words that he couldn’t find and even learned to lie.



CowSource: mnn.com

Cows seem like placid animals merely concerned with chewing their cud, but looks can be deceiving. Scientists have discovered that cows are highly developed and intelligent mammals capable of solving a variety of problems. They also possess a surprisingly rich and complex emotional life. Scientists were amazed to discover that cows actually make friends and enemies. They are also capable of feeling strong emotions; they can even worry about the future.



RavenSource: theguardian.com

Similar in appearance to crows, ravens are said to be the “brainboxes” of the natural world. Through experimentation, scientists have discovered that ravens use logic to solve problems, and some of their abilities even surpass those of the great apes. Additionally, ravens have demonstrated that they can work out complex sets of actions they had never done before, which means that they use logic.



Mouse Source: cuteness.com

There is a good reason why mice are considered unusually intelligent animals – they have a similar ratio of brain weight to body weight as humans (1:40). These tiny rodents are highly social, playful, curious, and affectionate. They are also capable of learning and can be taught tricks. They can be, for example, taught to recognize their name and sit up for food.



OrcaSource: zmescience.com

Also known as killer whales, the orcas are notable for their unusual intelligence and complex societies. In fact, only elephants and higher primates, such as humans, live in comparably complex social structures. Orcas also have highly advanced communication skills. Their use of dialects and the passing of learned behaviors from generation to generation have even been described as a form of animal culture.



PigSource: dailymail.co.uk

Through a series of specially designed IQ tests, scientists have recently found that pigs can outsmart dogs and solve problems just as impressively as chimpanzees. Among other talents, pigs have excellent long-term memories, are skilled at completing mazes and recognizing symbols, have demonstrated empathy, and can learn from each other in groups.

Image Credits: 1-4. Public Domain, 5. Shutterstock, 6. Public Domain, 7- 15. Shutterstock, 16. Photographer unknown via opencage.info CC BY-SA 2.5, 17. Public Domain, 18-24. Shutterstock, 25. William Cho via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 2.0.