The earth is massive and diverse. While nobody really argues the superior intelligence of the smartest creature in the world, the other nine aren’t as easy to pin down. The species on this list definitely graduated top of the class, though the jury is still out on who would really beat who on Animal Jeopardy.
Not much of a shocker. Despite our propensity to watch The Bachelor and elect questionable politicians, humans, with our rational thought and opposable thumbs, reign supreme. This fact remains accurate in spite of the continued cultural relevance of Paris Hilton.
Anyone who’s been to Sea World will tell you that dolphins are freakishly smart. What’s amazing is that most of the “tricks” they’re taught to do are actually behavior they would engage in on their own. Dolphins love to play, race, and generally enjoy life to the fullest. They possess a language we have yet to completely understand and like all civilized creatures, dolphin mothers remain with their young well into the child’s adolescence, providing guidance and, possibly, love.
3. Great Apes
The Great Ape family primarily consists of gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Their brain chemistry and physical orientation is so similar to humans that NASA once used chimpanzees in place of astronauts during many dangerous missions. They won’t let some humans be astronauts! Another chimp in Japan can use a computer, and is likely at this very moment getting addicted to World of Warcraft. Gorillas have been taught sign language and orangutans exist in complex familial relationships. There may be slightly more than opposable thumbs separating man from ape, but not a lot more.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “an elephant never forgets.” What most people don’t realize is how that saying came to be. Elephants establish long term friendships, recognizing and remembering their friends (human and elephant) years later. They exhibit the ability to empathize, illustrated by their compunction to bury their dead – sometimes even dead humans. If they come upon a fallen friend, an elephant has even been known to grieve the loss. They exhibit problem solving and use tools; they exist in families. If they were smaller, they would probably all have Facebook pages set up and know how to use Twitter better than I do.
As evidenced by this list, birds are very smart. They are also the only animals listed who can actually hold a conversation. Some parrots know hundreds of words, and by “know” I don’t mean they – well – parrot humans. The birds are actually capable of retaining words and using them intelligently in response to situations. This news makes the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch unintentionally tragic.
Crows are wily things, even if they are fooled by stereotypically dressed straw men. Your typical, garden variety crow has been known to liberate a walnut from the picnic table, then fly the morsel out into traffic, drop it, wait for a passing car to crack the nut open, then swoop down and enjoy the results. And that’s not even the cleverest a crow can get! The New Caldedonian Crow is especially intriguing given its ability to use crudely fashioned tools as it hunts for food, including knives created from cut leaves or grass. Yes, that’s right: a crow with a switchblade. Hitchcock never saw this coming.
I know what you’re thinking. “How smart could they be if they carried the Black Plague all around England?” Despite the perception that rats are little more than filthy disease carriers, rats are actually among the most inventive creatures on the planet. There’s a very good reason that science uses rats and mice more than any other animal for experimentation, and no, it’s not because puppies are cuter. Their brains are capable of finding loopholes and shortcuts in mazes and other experiments that your three-year-old would probably have difficulty with.
8. The Pigeon
Possibly the most disturbing looking creature on the list, the pigeon has long terrorized big cities with spacious balconies. While its body movements can be off putting, the pigeon is an incredibly social creature. Pigeons can tell the difference between other pigeons, and, unlike some people you get stuck talking to at parties, use behavior to create their responses. And anyone who’s heard of a “homing pigeon” is well aware the birds are capable of returning to and from long distances without ever getting lost. However, in a knife fight, the pigeon would probably lose to its craftier crow brother.
Ever heard the term “spread like wildfire”? Well, it should really be “spread like pigs.” Every time the pig is introduced to a new environment, it becomes devastating to the native species, showing a survival ability that screams of intelligence over brute strength. While they get a bad rep for being messy, pigs are actually merely adaptable to their situation. If you make them live in mud, they’ll do so, quite happily; give them a clean environment, however, and they’ll keep it that way. This is more than can be said for your teenage son who wants to move above the garage for “privacy.”
Sure, they’re like rats with really bushy tails, but like the rat, squirrels have hidden depths. They successfully hunt for food in a variety of intriguing places most species wouldn’t consider. In addition, they plan ahead, “squirreling” away much of what they find in secret food storage in preparation for a long winter, or because they anticipate catching up on a full season of “Grey’s Anatomy” and won’t want to leave the house for awhile.
Some of the resource we used making this list: