The 10 Smartest Animals on Earth

The 10 Smartest Animals on Earth

When it comes to intelligence, humans often think we stand alone. However, the animal kingdom contains many examples of incredible intellect and advanced cognition.

Certain animal species demonstrate powerful problem-solving skills, self-awareness, tool use, and even language abilities. Science continues to reveal the impressive mental capabilities of animals, overturning the outdated notion that humans are superior in every way.

I this article, we will explore the 10 most intelligent animals on Earth, based on scientific research and observations of animal behavior. Discover which creatures display the most advanced smarts in the animal kingdom.

1. Chimpanzees


Chimpanzees are humanity’s closest genetic relatives, sharing nearly 99% of our DNA. This biological similarity gives chimps cognitive abilities comparable to those of a human child.

Studies show chimps can learn sign language and symbols to communicate with humans. They also use tools in sophisticated ways, create mental maps, engage in deceit, and demonstrate self-awareness by recognizing themselves in mirrors.

Chimps live in complex social groups and exhibit emotions, personalities, and even political machinations as they vie for power. Their exceptional intelligence likely evolved from the complexities of living in large communities of chimpanzees.

2. Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins

Dolphins have the second-largest brains relative to body size, after humans. With advanced language skills, self-awareness, and foresight, dolphins demonstrate intelligence comparable to the great apes.

Dolphins communicate with a complex system of whistles and sounds among themselves. They can learn artificial languages, use tools, follow recipes, and associate abstract symbols with meaning.

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Studies show dolphins call each other by “names” and gossip about each other. They also display self-awareness by examining and recognizing themselves in a mirror. Such skills reveal why dolphins thrive in highly social groups.

3. Elephants


Elephants have incredibly large brains, even when adjusted for their huge size. They exhibit many complex behaviors associated with intelligence.

Elephants live in tightly bonded family groups and show empathy for each other. They mourn their dead, get “happy” from music, and can differentiate among various languages.

Elephants use tools, work collaboratively, follow migratory patterns across vast distances, and may associate abstract symbols or words with meaning. Their advanced cognition likely evolved from living in complex, matriarchal societies.

4. Parrots


Parrots demonstrate intelligence equal to that of a human toddler. Certain parrot species, like the African grey parrot, have vocabularies of over 100 words and can use language contextually.

Studies show parrots are capable of counting, creating compound words, solving puzzles, making and using tools, and understanding concepts like same/different.

Parrots live in highly social flocks, and their exceptional language skills likely evolved to facilitate communication. Their impressive intelligence helps parrots adapt and thrive across multiple continents.

5. Orangutans


The great apes known as orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans. They have sophisticated problem-solving skills, advanced communication abilities, self-awareness, and the capacity for abstract thought.

Studies have documented orangutans using tools, learning sign language, solving complex puzzles, and even whistling tunes. They also show self-awareness in mirror tests.

Orangutans live solitary lives in the wild, and their intelligence may have arisen from the challenges of survival and the need to build complex nests each night. Their advanced cognition enables flexible adaptation.

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6. Ravens


Ravens are among the smartest birds, exhibiting complex social relationships, long-term memory, deceit, insight, and problem-solving skills.

Ravens use tools, work together, and play games. They also demonstrate self-awareness in mirror tests. Ravens have large brains relative to their body size, with expanded areas linked to problem-solving and abstract thinking.

Their intelligence likely evolved due to living in social groups and adapting to diverse habitats. Ravens remember other birds for years and even pass on social knowledge to their young.

7. Pigs

Pigs in the farm

Contrary to their “dumb” reputation, pigs have proven to be whip-smart, with cognitive skills comparable to dogs and even some primates.

Pigs are adaptable animals that learn complex tasks quickly. They have excellent long-term memories and understand concepts like size, shape, and quantity.

Mother pigs “sing” to their young before feeding, with each piglet responding to its own unique song. Pigs even outperform chimps on certain cognition tests and are smarter than dogs at completing mazes and following cues.

8. Octopuses


Octopuses stand out for their ability to use tools, solve problems, navigate through mazes, and display personality. They have memory systems advanced enough to retain training after months.

Their large brains, relative to body size, with over 500 million neurons, likely explain the unique intelligence of octopuses. Different groups of neurons carry out specialized functions.

Octopuses continue learning throughout life as their neurons remain undifferentiated. They lead solitary lives and their problem-solving smarts help them adapt to varied marine environments.

9. Crows


Crows flex mighty mental muscles, with their brain-to-body size ratio rivaling great apes. They display advanced tool use and problem-solving skills in scientific studies.

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Crows create and use hooked tools to reach food and solve multi-step puzzles. They remember human faces associated with being threatened years later.

Crows live in family groups and exhibit complex social behaviors. Their exceptional intelligence helps them thrive across widely diverse habitats.

10. Squirrels


With excellent memories, adaptability, and fast learning skills, squirrels rank as one of the most intelligent rodents.

Squirrels use complex spatial maps to bury nuts and then find them later – up to 10,000 nuts a year! They solve mazes and learn from observation, even pretending to bury nuts to deceive onlookers.

Their large brain size, for a small rodent, contributes to innovation, planning ahead, and using their habitat to their advantage. Squirrels’ smarts help them thrive among humans.

Key Takeaways on Intelligent Animals

  • Chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, and parrots demonstrate intelligence comparable to great apes and human toddlers.
  • Ravens, pigs, octopuses, crows, and squirrels exhibit problem-solving skills, tool use, and communication abilities, indicating complex cognitive abilities.
  • Animals evolved intelligence to navigate social relationships, adapt to various habitats, locate resources, and survive threats.
  • Large brain size compared to body mass, expanded areas linked to higher cognition, and advanced memory systems enable animal intelligence.


The most intelligent animals have extraordinary capabilities rivaling and even exceeding those of young humans. As science learns more about animal cognition, we find they share many of the same advanced mental abilities as people.

Rather than separating humanity from the animal kingdom, our shared skills link us together – evidence of evolution’s wondrous role in shaping intelligence.

Acknowledging the smarts of animals can hopefully foster greater compassion and inspire more respectful coexistence with our fellow thinking creatures on this planet. Learn more about animal ranking and facts here.