We tend to refer to ourselves as the smartest species on the planet, superior beings and the ultimate rulers of the animal kingdom. Our main characteristics as humans are the abilities to learn, reason, and resolve problems, while being well aware of our existence. Are we the only ones who can do this? Not by far. Sure, we have Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, we have Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Albert Einstein’s theories of the universe and its clockwork, all remarkable creations of beautiful and utterly superior minds.
They may not be smart enough to become rocket scientists, and they may not be able to communicate with us and share their knowledge and feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these animals don’t have a clue what’s going on around here. That’s right, some of them seem to grasp the real value of life. For example, cows worry about the future, sheep form steady groups to protect themselves from predators, pigs have dreams, and ants have been in the agricultural business for quite some time. People tend not to associate animals with wisdom or any sort of intelligence. A common misconception. With incredible behavior and strong feelings, some animals are much smarter than you might think.
10. The Ancestral Farmers – The Ants
Among the smallest members in the animal kingdom, ants stand to show that intelligence isn’t directly proportional to size. They have been around forever and evolved when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, with an incredible power to withstand calamities. Ants are experienced farmers, and have been practicing agriculture 50 million years before humans. We’ve all seen ants carrying leaves and other crumbs of food back to their colonies. Although, they don’t eat them, they use all that material to grow a special type of fungus they feed on. There are different sections for farming, growing, harvesting, and storage inside the intricately planned colonies that can stretch out for miles. They even use fertilizer. Some species of ants attack other colonies and enslave their members, forcing them to work their “plantations.” The pattern sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? One single ant may not be particularly smart, but when working together, they form a massive collective brain that can easily adapt to the environment and would go to any length to achieve its goal.
9. The Escape Artist – The Octopus
Cephalopods have unusually large heads for their body sizes, and are considered the smartest invertebrates. The brains of octopuses are so big that they even go down surrounding their esophagus. Besides that, they share a few features with the human brain, presenting folded lobes and distinct areas for perceiving and deciphering visual and tactile information. As a main characteristic, they are remarkably curious and get bored very easily. They are fast learners, and the only invertebrates that use tools, manipulating them with their tentacles, and using precise muscle control to eat. With excellent long-term memory, octopuses can navigate through mazes and escape from aquariums, can sneak aboard fishing boats, and even open a jar. As skilled hunters, they put together elaborate strategies for finding food, and can make shields using various types of shells to protect themselves from predators.
8. The Family Man – The Rat
In Western cultures, the rat is a much slandered animal, considered dirty and believed to carry many diseases. This is true to some extent, given the fact that they live in sewers and tunnels where hygiene is an issue. Although, it is only due to their high adaptability skills that they chose to live underground. In lab tests, rats showed remarkable talent in finding all sorts of shortcuts and escape routes, and possess excellent long-term memory. Often used in lab tests, compared to other rodents, they are far more intelligent than rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. They can even be taught simple tricks, and show signs of grasping cause and effect. Plus, rats are family men, living in a strong social hierarchy, and are very social and affectionate. They take good care of the injured and sick in their group, and feel lonely, stressed, and depressed when lacking companionship.
7. The Chatterbox – The Parrot
Deemed the smartest birds on the planet, parrots may not have that pair of forelimbs to help them get around, but they can do wonders with their beaks. They can solve problems, find logical solutions, and use their beak to make and handle various tools. Parrots can mimic human words, but they don’t just learn them parrot-fashion, as the saying goes, they actually understand the meaning. They can remember an outstanding number of words and can make sentences on their own, which actually makes a lot of sense. They can even answer easy questions. Throughout the world, there have been cases of parrots dialing 911 to save their owner’s life from a fire or heart attack.
6. The Master Craftsman – The Crow
One of the most populated bird species on the planet, crows are not afraid of human presence and are clever enough to cause trouble. Members of the corvids, a highly intelligent bird family that has been proven very resourceful, which also includes the ravens, their brains are about the same size as some primates, and that says a lot. Crows are known to observe the human world and learn new techniques for finding food. For example, they throw nuts in traffic to break them open. Crows and ravens mate for life. They are capable of multitasking, and use logic to better understand the surrounding, use twigs, feathers, and debris to make tools to help them collect food from hard to reach places, and throw pebbles at their predators in the natural world. Did you know crows can also recognize human faces?
5. The Daydreamer – The Pig
You’ve probably already heard that most pig organs are compatible with ours, and pig parts are used in all sorts of reconstructive surgery, but that’s not all we have in common. Often considered a dirty animal and looked at as just a big piece of ham, pigs are capable of strong feelings. They are very sensitive, have deep emotions, and can easily get bored. Sound familiar? Plus, they are very sociable and easily trainable, some say even more trainable than dogs, which is probably why many choose to have one as a pet. Here’s one you probably didn’t know; in lab tests, they play video games better than primates, can dream, and are aware of their own name. Plus, pigs have been shown to posses more cognitive power than dogs and even human babies.
4. Man’s Best Friend – The Dog
Of course we couldn’t forget about man’s best friend, the only living being that will stand by its owner’s side and give them their unconditional love for as long as they live, protecting them with their own life. Dogs understand commands, they don’t just learn them by heart and do tricks just to humor us. Dogs have so many different personalities, and can choose not to obey orders if they do not see the point. They are capable of strong emotions, anything from extreme happiness to downright sadness, jealousy and longing. They can identify and remember human faces they’ve met. If someone hurt them, they will not forget that person their entire life. Plus, they can recognize radio and television, and can make the distinction between a picture of a dog and that of a landscape on a screen, meaning that they are well aware of the surrounding environment. Strangely enough, dogs have been around just as long as humans, and they understand and adapt to the human world better than any other animal. Did you know the average dog has an intelligence level equal to a two-year-old human baby?
3. The Artist – The Elephant
The brain of an elephant is incredibly heavy, weighing around 11 pounds or more, the biggest brain among large mammals as compared to their body mass. They can use various objects in a number of creative ways, all without being taught or trained in advance. They use sticks to pick things and leaves to swat at flies, and some can even paint. They even clean their food. After all, who wants to eat a banana covered in mud? The old saying “to have a memory life an elephant” couldn’t be more accurate. An elephant never forgets, and can recognize a human face after many years. It adapts to the surrounding environment, can recognize hundreds of individual sounds, and can identify itself in the mirror. Elephants follow and understand human commands, and have a social life. They are known to console family and group members in difficult times. They show a wide range of emotions, from joy to playfulness and sorrow, playing around in water in joyous times, and grieving in sad moments. Elephants interact with each other on an emotional level using vibrations sensed in their feet, showing signs of empathy, love, loneliness, and sadness, appreciation of music, beauty, and art.
2. The Jocular Trickster – The Dolphin
Considered the world’s third most intelligent animal on Earth, the dolphin is a social being with great instincts and great respect for its family and group. Dolphins can find a member that has been separated from their group miles away in the sea using their own language to communicate through a distinctive whistling sound. We all know they are easy to train, but they can perform difficult tasks in the wilderness too, using logic and reason. Did you know that dolphins do not sleep entirely? Only one part of the brain sleeps, while the rest is constantly on alert, all owed to their amazing brain power and aesthetic sensibility. Their brain is structured for awareness and emotion. They have big brains as compared to their body size, are capable of expressing strong emotions, and can even make sounds that resemble laughing. The dolphin is the only marine animal that recognizes itself in the mirror.
1. Our Distant Cousins – The Great Apes
No, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not all fantasy. It is based on a highly probable scenario. The family of the Great Apes, or the primates, includes the chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos; an endangered species. They have always fascinated humans with their skills, agility, and gestures that are so similar to ours. Our genomes are at least 98% identical. Primates make and use tools, hunt collectively, and can solve difficult problems. Plus, they can imitate human behavior. For example, they can use a saw to cut wood and a hammer and nails to build things. What’s even more amazing is that they have been proven to be able to learn and use sign language to communicate with humans. Oh, did I mention they remember the sign names of humans, even after years without seeing the person, and use combinations of symbols to express their thoughts? Primates are capable of expressing strong feelings like altruism, empathy, and self-awareness. In some tests, chimps performed better than humans on memory tests. Did you know chimpanzees also know how to appreciate a beautiful sunset?