5 Most Intelligent Animals on Earth

Discover the most intelligent animals on Earth whose extraordinary skills and abilities will fascinate you. Some of these animals include elephants and dolphins.

Jun 14, 2024byDonna Hobson
most intelligent animals on earth

As humans, we tend to overestimate our own importance and feel like we’re the most intelligent species on the planet. Yet, we’re not the only animals to have these skills.

The more we study the animal kingdom around us, the more evidence we find that confirms nonhuman animals are capable of independent thought, intelligence, and empathy. Not only are these revelations fascinating, but they force us to re-evaluate our assumptions about what constitutes an “intelligent” being.

Dolphins Have an IQ of About 45

dolphins kissing
Credit: Image by Romuald Bézard on Pixabay

Dolphins are known as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, thanks to their learning and mimicry abilities. Dolphins can manipulate their surroundings and use tools to achieve the desired outcome; for example, they create fish traps using mud and collect sponges which they use for protection while scavenging through coral in search of food.

These incredible marine creatures can also adapt to changing circumstances, as documented in a 2021 research project, which took place during the construction of a new bridge. Scientists discovered that these clever creatures not only established new feeding zones but also shifted temporal behavior rhythms, allowing them to avoid construction hours and engage in those behaviors later in the day.

And if that’s not enough proof of this animal’s intelligence, the bottlenose dolphin also can switch between generalized and specialized languages and has been observed in communication with other species.

Crows Can Memorize Faces and Routines

crow common raven
Credit: Image by Alexa on Pixabay

Crows are part of a family of birds known as Corvids (which also includes magpies, ravens, and jays) who demonstrate impressive intelligence. They are the only non-primate vertebrates able to construct their own tools; for example, the New Caledonian crow can create a hook from a piece of wire (even if they’ve never encountered wire before).

These impressive birds can communicate complex concepts to other crows and have the ability to think about the future. They can also recognize human faces; one study demonstrated a combination of these skills when crows could communicate a description of their attackers to other crows.

A famous Aesop fable highlights the crow’s intelligence when it uses water displacement to get a drink. Scientists tested this theory for real and found that crows have the same understanding of water displacement as the average seven-year-old child could comprehend. Further studies by a Moscow-based team revealed that crows could grasp abstract concepts such as analogies.

Today, many people try to “befriend” crows by offering grains, baubles, and trinkets at certain times of the day. Because crows can memorize faces and routines, they sometimes give presents back!

Chimpanzees Are Among the Smartest Animals

chimpanzee family
Credit: Image by Susanne Jutzeler, Schweiz, on Pixabay

The chimpanzee is perhaps the smartest nonhuman animal in the entire kingdom, which is not surprising when you consider that we share a 99% DNA match with these incredibly human-like creatures.

This intelligent species has an endless list of impressive traits and skills. Some of the most well-documented are the chimp’s ability to learn sign language and communicate with human beings. Chimps can remember individual name signs for years and are one of the only species able to recognize themselves in the mirror.

In addition, chimps can utilize symbols to represent objects so that they can communicate complex ideas. And chimps make tools such as spears that they use for hunting. The problem-solving abilities of the chimp are so impressive that they can outperform humans on memory tests.

And cognitive ability isn’t the only skill that makes the chimpanzee so intelligent; these beautiful animals also display emotional intelligence; they form strong bonds with other chimps (and sometimes humans), they demonstrate caring, and they can mourn following a death.

Elephants Have the Biggest Brain of Land Animals

baby elephant with mum
Credit: Image by Neil Morrell on Pixabay

It’s no surprise that elephants appear on the list of most intelligent animals when you consider that they possess the biggest brain of any land animal, with just as many neurons as a human brain. They are so sophisticated that they can differentiate between different human languages and memorize the meaning of specific sentences that require them to respond.

These mighty mammals are known for their excellent memories; in addition, they can solve puzzles by working cooperatively. This was demonstrated in a study conducted at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, where elephants had to work together to retrieve a bucket of corn. Interestingly, the elephants didn’t just perform the task as shown; they also found new ways to achieve the same result. And this adaptability further proves their high level of intelligence.

Elephants also have self-awareness, as proven by the fact that they can recognize themselves in a mirror, and they demonstrate significant amounts of empathy, which highlights their emotional intelligence.

Rats: More Than Your Average Rodent

rat eating
Credit: Image by Jarle Eknes on Pixabay

This entry may surprise you, but despite the tiny size of the rat’s body and brain, they are one of the most intelligent animals in the world. Similar to other pets – such as dogs and cats – these creatures can demonstrate a preference towards certain items or individuals.

Rats can purr like a cat and even emit their own version of a laugh when tickled. They are easier to train than other rodent pets, such as rabbits or guinea pigs, and show a desire to please their owners. If you reward a rat, it will quickly learn to imitate behavior, but they also love the mental stimulation of mastering new skills.

These remarkable little creatures excel at understanding and learning new concepts; they can even outperform humans in some cognitive tests.

Honorable Mentions: Cats, Octopuses, and Orangutans

cat sitting down kitten
Credit: Image by Yuri Sidorenko on Pixabay

As Einstein once said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Every living species has a unique ability that allows it to survive. Still, even with our concepts of “intelligence,” many animals can match and even surpass the skills of humans. Here are a few more of these incredible animals:

  • Cats have a memory that is 200 times stronger than a dog’s and can remember details of their day for up to 16 hours. In addition, cats have as many as 300 neurons in their brain, making them one of the world’s most intelligent animals.
  • Orangutans use shelter and tools similarly to humans; they form complex social groups and relationships and can learn the basics of language skills.
  • Vertebrates aren’t the only intelligent animals; the octopus possesses the largest invertebrate brain (with three-fifths of the neurons stored in its arm) and is the only invertebrate that has adapted to using tools.
Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.