Top 10 Smartest Animals In The World – Ranked 2022

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key point

  • Orangutans and chimpanzees are among the smartest animals. Orangutans share 97 percent of their DNA with humans, and both primates use tools and shelter, have complex ritual social structures and some basic language skills.
  • The fearsomely intelligent bottlenose dolphin can switch back and forth between specialized and lingua franca. They have also been observed communicating and cooperating with other species.
  • African gray parrots learn a large vocabulary and understand shapes, colors, spatial reasoning and relational concepts.

Humans tend to feel overly secure about their place at the top of the food chain. We take for granted that we are the smartest animals on earth without ever really thinking about what makes us unique. Is it the permanence of objects, the ability to plan, the use of tools, or the fact that we form complex social relationships? Other animal species share some of these traits, and some exhibit all of them.

Many species simply cannot survive without specialized intelligence. Memorizing routes and landmarks throughout a habitat helps many animals navigate safely and find food. Some have to remember strategies for evading and outsmarting predators to avoid becoming a meal themselves. It might surprise you that many animals develop a level of emotional intelligence! Read on as we discuss the 10 smartest animals in the world .

#10: Mouse

smartest animal mouse
Rats are one of the smartest animals. They are natural students and are very good at learning and understanding concepts.

©Ihor Hvozdetskyi/Shutterstock.com

It's no coincidence that scientists have used mice as laboratory research animals for years. Although their brains are small and relatively underdeveloped, their thinking patterns are remarkably similar to those of humans, and their brain structures are comparable. They have the ability to navigate mazes, remember routes and perform complex multi-step tasks.

Rats are also social animals. When left alone, they begin to show signs of depression and loneliness. These psychological and social differences are why rats are among the smartest animals.

#9: Dove

smartest animal - pigeon
Pigeons are one of the smartest animals and they can recognize all 26 letters of the English alphabet!

©Ruth Swan/Shutterstock.com

Ironically, pigeons come in second on our list, colloquially known as "flying squirrels." However, the reasons for including them here are quite different. Pigeons have demonstrated that they can recognize their own reflection, demonstrating a complex sense of self. They have the ability to recognize specific people and places over a period of months or even years. This memory is what has allowed pigeons to carry messages over long distances for centuries. Pigeons can recognize all letters of the English alphabet, and they can even spot the difference between two people in pictures.

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#8: Raven

The smartest animal - crow
Crows are very intelligent animals, one of the few non-primates that can make tools .

©Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

Crows are another very intelligent animal species that also act as messengers like pigeons. When fighting other animals, they are able to use complex group tactics, such as flanking maneuvers. Crows can also learn to talk, and they have impressive memories. The researchers documented instances where crows changed their migration patterns to avoid danger areas. Plus, crows have even been caught memorizing garbage routes and schedules to more efficiently steal fast food from trucks!

Crows have the largest brains of any bird, and they've been shown to recognize human faces. Despite their conspicuous absence of hands and arms, they are also able to use tools; in fact, New Caledonian crows make a knife to more easily part leaves and grass. This species also uses hooks and lines to access hard-to-reach food sources. Some of the more interesting crow facts are located here.

#7: Pig

The smartest animal - pig
Animal experts believe that pigs are easier to train than dogs or cats and are very intelligent animals.

© Sonsedska Yuliia/Shutterstock.com

Pigs barely edge out dogs on our list of the 10 smartest animals. While dogs have the intelligence of a toddler, pigs have a much higher IQ level. They can understand the concept of reflection as early as six weeks old; it's something that human children take months to understand.

Pigs also have about 20 different sounds they can use to communicate, and sows sing to their babies when feeding. Pigs respond to emotions and even show empathy when appropriate, an extremely rare trait in the animal kingdom. Additional information about pigs can be found on this page.

#6: Octopus

smartest animal - octopus
Very intelligent octopuses can navigate mazes and solve problems quickly.

©Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

The octopus is the only invertebrate to make the list of the world's smartest animals. As the only member of its kind listed here, you might be asking how smart an octopus really is? Captive octopuses have been observed to use high-level planning and several steps to escape captivity, while others can even damage objects even outside their tanks by deliberately and repeatedly splashing water on them. They even threw rocks at glasses and were able to open jars with screw tops.

These cephalopods are very smart! In the wild, they sneak around disguised as rocks. While imitating rocks, the octopuses move very slowly, matching the speed of the water to create the illusion that they are standing still. This allows them to move around undetected in the presence of predators.

Octopuses can also use long-term and short-term memory to figure out mazes and problem-solving experiments. In their habitat, this helps them find their way back to their nest after a long journey.

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#5: African Gray Parrot

The smartest animal - African gray parrot
African gray parrots are not only very intelligent, but also helpful!

©avers/Shutterstock.com

The African gray parrot tops the list of birds on this list of the smartest animals. Estimated to be as intelligent as a five-year-old human, these parrots can not only learn human language, but also have an impressively large vocabulary (up to hundreds of words). In addition, African gray cats understand spatial reasoning, recognize and recognize shapes and colors, and can even learn the relationship between size, difference and similarity, and up and down.

African gray parrots are popular pets that are domesticated around the world, but they are native to the rainforests of central Africa. You can find interesting facts about various parrot species here.

#4: Elephant

elephant
Very intelligent elephants can imitate the sounds of other elephants and even some human words.

©JohnE Goodwin/Shutterstock.com

Elephants are often mentioned for their great memories, but they are also among the smartest animals. These animals have complex social structures and have been seen attending funeral ceremonies for deceased family members and mourning their loss. Elephants also use tools and self-medicate; they eat the leaves of certain plants to treat illnesses and even induce labor!

They are also one of the very few animals that exhibit altruistic behavior. Most animals lack the capacity for abstract thought required to process such behaviors. Elephants will sacrifice themselves if they believe this will allow the rest of the herd or their young to escape to safety. Read more interesting elephant facts here.

#3: Chimpanzees

The smartest animal - Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees are very intelligent animals, capable of solving many different problems posed to them by human trainers and experimenters.

©Kletr/Shutterstock.com

Our closest genetic relative comes in third on this list of the smartest animals. Chimpanzees, which share 98 percent of their DNA with humans, are native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are tool experts, and chimpanzees have been seen improvising tools from available items to make what they need. These great apes also use mental techniques; within their own families, they manipulate others to perform certain tasks.

A unique fact about chimpanzees is that scientists have discovered that the adult members of a family teach the young ones sign language. The most interesting part of the discovery was that there was no human interaction or prompting; the chimpanzees actively taught the children sign language, which they used to communicate in groups. Read more facts about chimpanzees here!

#2: Bottlenose Dolphin

Smartest Animals - Bottlenose Dolphins
Very intelligent bottlenose dolphins are self-aware, suggesting they have highly developed abstract thinking, researchers believe .

©Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Many consider the bottlenose dolphin to be the smartest animal, but it comes second on this list. How smart are dolphins? Honestly, it depends; there are more than eight species of dolphins, but only bottlenose dolphins make the cut. They have the largest brains of any relative, and they are the only dolphins without cervical fusion, which allows them to make human-like nodding movements with their heads.

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In addition to being easy to train, dolphins are able to recognize themselves in mirrors, notice unfamiliar markings on their bodies in reflection, recognize images on television, and have impressive memories. Dolphins remember calls from mates more than 20 years after being separated. Two of the most impressive reasons why bottlenose dolphins make it to the top of this list are indeed exciting. They have a language unique to their species and switch to a "universal language" to communicate when they encounter other species of dolphins, and they have even been seen hunting effectively in cooperation with humans, false killer whales and other species!

#1: Orangutan

The smartest animal - the orangutan
Very smart orangutans take their time to solve problems!

© All I Do/Shutterstock.com

The reason why orangutans are at the top of the list here is interesting. Much like chimpanzees, orangutans can use tools, learn sign language, and have complex social structures involving rituals. What really sets them apart is the cognitive ability to understand "why," or the reasoning behind a particular behavior. In captivity, orangutans learn the process of using tools and building simple structures. When the researchers released him back into the wild, they observed the orangutan improvise tools from what he could find, then build a similar structure to shelter from the rain.

Considering that orangutans share more than 97 percent of their DNA with humans, it's no surprise that orangutans are so smart. They use tools to the highest degree compared to other animal species. They can be trained to use hammers and nails, and orangutans have even learned to use hoses to suck up liquids. Native to Indonesia, they are critically endangered due to habitat loss.

Protect

Orangutans are considered critically endangered. Their numbers have declined dramatically over the past two decades due to poaching, habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. Loss of their habitat is caused by deforestation for palm oil plantations, timber harvesting and mining operations. They also face the threat of poachers who hunt them for meat and capture young orangutans for the illegal wildlife trade.

Humans can help save orangutans by reducing our consumption of products containing palm oil and other commodities produced through deforestation, such as paper and wood products. Orangutans and many other wildlife are affected when trees are felled for livestock grazing or grown soy or corn to feed livestock. Reducing or eliminating meat consumption can go a long way in helping save endangered species from extinction.

Top 10 Smartest Animals In The World 2022 Summary

rank animal
#1 Chimpanzees
#2 bottlenose dolphin
#3 chimpanzee
#4 elephant
#5 african gray parrot
#6 octopus
#7 pig
#8 crow
#9 Pigeon
#10 mouse

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about the author

heather hall


I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do animals have feelings?

Sentient is often used to refer to all living things that can feel, and by this definition, almost all animals can be considered sentient!

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