Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
April 23, 2024 ·  9 min read

30 Smartest Animals in the World

Science has led to incredible realizations about the world around us, including some of the world’s smartest animals. Here are 30 animals known for their incredible intelligence and abilities.

1. Intelligent Animals can Empathize

Asia Elephant in Thailand, Asia Elephants in Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Credit: Shutterstock

Elephants are among the world’s smartest animals for several reasons. First, they seemingly feel things like empathy, self-awareness, and mourning. Second, the ability to demonstrate these emotions is also apparent in their family dynamic as elephants follow a matriarchy system, holding the oldest and wisest female elephant in the highest regard. Third, these gentle giants also use complex vocalizations and gestures to communicate, as well as their cognitive abilities to problem-solve, ensuring the whole herd is safe and cared for.

2. Meerkats are Surprisingly Complex

Stokstaartje (meerkat) in Namibia (namib dessert, Kanaan Desert retreat
Credit: Shutterstock

Meerkats are another type of animal with a complex social structure among them. They live in large communities and share designated responsibilities. For example, some may be appointed to care for all the babies, while others may be appointed to find food for the whole clan. Like many animals, they have a language among themselves and “cooperate” with one another to ensure a thriving community.

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3. Dolphins are Intelligent Animals

Credit: Shutterstock

Dolphins, namely bottlenose dolphins, have proven their cognitive abilities in the wild and captivity. Not only have these majestic swimmers been trained to perform, but they’ve also demonstrated their ability to work as a group on hunting and child-rearing. Moreover, something else categorizes them as one of the world’s most intelligent animals. Dolphins have been known to use their environment as a tool for their gain. For example, while foraging for food, some use sea sponges to protect their snouts from being scratched by sand on the ocean floor.

4. Octopi are Brilliant

Octopus (Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797) or octopus is a cephalopod of the Octopodidae family at sea.
Credit: Shutterstock

There’s been debate about whether numerous octopuses should be referred to as octopuses or octopi. While either works, the argument has drawn attention away from all the incredible things these sea creatures can accomplish. Not only do octopi have the ability to problem solve and use tools, but they have also been known to escape their enclosures while in captivity. Furthermore, they have the ability to adapt to their surroundings, changing color, texture, and patterns.

5. Parrotfish

Daisy parrotfish - Chlorurus sordidus, Red Sea
Credit: Shutterstock

Parrotfish play a crucial role in maintaining the ocean’s ecosystem, but more than that, this incredible fish has been known to create a protective barrier around themselves at night, protecting them from predators and demonstrating adaptability.

6. Sperm Whales

Biggest predators in the world in blue ocean. Pod of sperm whales swimming off the coast of Sao Miguel Azores
Credit: Shutterstock

Sperm Whales have the largest brain of any creature, alive or extinct. They have an extensive vocabulary and stay close to their pods, relying on each other and a matriarch to protect their young and get food. Moreover, some behaviors, including methods of survival and communication, have been passed down for generations. These immense beings are also empathetic and deeply connected to one another and their young.

7. Cuttlefish

Magnificent cuttlefish Pharaoh on an underwater dark tropical coral reef close-up
Credit: Shutterstock

Like the octopus, cuttlefish have problem-solving and adaptability skills like “learning through observation.” They have demonstrated an ability to navigate through mazes, solve puzzles, and manipulate objects to accomplish a desired task.

8. Sea Lion

A beautiful shot of a California sea lion seal enjoying the rays of the sun in Baja California
Credit: Shutterstock

Sea Lions were once used in the circus as a means of entertainment because of their cognitive abilities, making them easy to train. Moreover, their playful and curious nature allows them to engage with others and their environment profoundly.

9. Some Birds, like Ravens and Crows

Raven (Corvus corax)
Credit: Shutterstock

Most people have difficulty distinguishing between ravens and crows; they look incredibly similar and are of the same family. However, ravens are often larger, live in solitary conditions or with a mate, and typically appear scruffier than crows. Either way, both birds are brilliant and known for their problem-solving skills, such as the help of tools to get food. Moreover, these incredible birds have shown the ability to recognize human faces, bringing gifts to humans who have helped or fed them. Astonishingly, they can also plan for the future.

Read More: What Would It Look Like If Birds Left Tracks In The Sky?

10. African Grey Parrots

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While many parrots are known for their intelligence, namely their vocabulary and capacity to be trained. However, the most impressive may be the African Grey. According to some studies, some are able to perform tasks too complex for 5-year-old humans. For example, in 2019, an experiment was conducted on an African Grey named Griffin.

In the experiment, Griffin had to deduce which cup was empty after being shown several cups with nuts. Unless he was only shown half the options, he always successfully picked the correct cup. Moreover, Griffin had the intelligence to forgo the correct answer if he knew there was a treat hidden elsewhere. “If he wanted that very special candy, he’d have to go to the 50-50 side,” explained cognitive psychologist Irene Pepperberg, a research associate at Harvard University. “A good enough percentage of the time, he gambled. But what was interesting was that if he lost, he wouldn’t gamble on the next trial.”

11. Smartest Animals include Kea Parrots

Kea's (Alpine Parrots) sitting together, Arthurs Pass National Park, New Zealand (
Credit: Shutterstock

The Kea Parrot, native to New Zealand, can also problem-solve, manipulate objects, and use tools for play. Kea Parrots have also been observed working together to achieve goals like getting food.

12. Pigeons are Surprisingly Intelligent Animals

Racing pigeon comes home and prepares for landing
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While pigeons have a bad reputation for being pesky and overpopulated in cities, they’re astonishing creatures. Creatures who understand complex concepts like time and space, categorizing objects, and self-awareness. Apparently, they can also learn abstract mathematical rules.

13. Alexandrine Parakeet

Alexandrine parakeet, Alexandrine parrot - Psittacula eupatria female perched while eating. Photo from Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India.
Credit: Shutterstock

The Alexandrine Parakeet, native to Asia, has, like other bird species, shown the ability to mimic words and sounds, problem solve, and interact with one another as well as humans.

14. Lyrebirds’ Musical Abilities

A superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae, Victoria, Australia, perched on a tree fern. This is an adult male side view.
Credit: Shutterstock

The Lyrebird, native to Australia, demonstrates auditory memory and processing and the ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from its environment. These birds then use these sounds for both communication and mating displays.

15. Dogs are Highly Intelligent

Adorable welsh springer spaniel dog breed in evening.
Credit: Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, dogs are among the world’s smartest animals. They are receptive to learning simple commands like sit and shake but also have accomplished more complex tasks like assisting on search and rescue missions. Not to mention service dogs who can sniff out an oncoming heart attack or seizure. Moreover, dogs communicate well with one another, and humans use a variety of vocalizations, facial expressions, and other body language. Furthermore, dogs can empathize with humans and develop deep social bonds, explaining why they’re such a popular companion among humans.

16. Goats are among the World’s Smartest Animals

Argan trees and the goats on the way between Marrakesh and Essaouira in Morocco.Argan Oil is produced by using the seeds of the trees,and the oil is used for cosmetics,beauty products and skin care
Credit: Shutterstock

An experiment was conducted using goats to see how well they can problem-solve. Particularly food-motivated, 9 of 12 goats could grasp the concept of using their teeth to pull on a rope and then activate a lever to access their food. What’s more, months later, many were still able to recall and execute the process.

Read More: This Shelter Cat Got Solitary Confinement For Helping Other Cats Escape

17. Horses

Horse stands with a young woman in a meadow, horse looks attentively to the right and the woman snuggles up to the horse's neck.
Credit: Shutterstock

Horses have been used in therapies from emotional healing to those suffering from cerebral palsy worldwide. They can recognize and empathize with human emotions, form strong bonds, and take several commands. This means that they are not only great for the soul. Horses can also perform manual labor, assisting with agriculture and farming.

18. Squirrels

Funny red squirrell standing in the forest like Master of the Universe. Comic animal
Credit: Shutterstock

Squirrels are among the world’s smartest animals for their ability to navigate and use spatial memory and awareness. Squirrels, like goats, are food-motivated. They deceive those who may threaten their food cache and overcome obstacles to access their food.

19. Raccoons

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Raccoons are another example of intelligent animals as they’ve shown behaviors like problem-solving and using tools to get food. Furthermore, they have adorable hands that help them open containers or unlock latches.

20. Rats

Two cute and curious Brown Rats looking of the cover.
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Rats are not only brilliant animals. They’re also adaptable, learning to perform tasks and navigate mazes, as well as showing feelings of empathy. Some have freed trapped companions or shared their food with others.

21. Pigs

Fattening pigs on a large commercial breeding pig are looking at the cameras in pig farm
Credit: Shutterstock

Pigs have been known to exhibit intelligence similar to dogs and primates. They have long-term memory skills rivaling some human abilities. Additionally, pigs can learn tricks, planning, and navigation through mazes. Unsurprisingly, they’re also social and curious creatures, lending evidence that they’re highly intelligent animals.

22. Chimpanzees

Close up portrait of a happy offspring chimpanzee with a silly grin with room for text
Credit: Shutterstock

Primates are closely related to humans in a variety of ways. Their DNA is 98% the same as human DNA, and they’ve undoubtedly reaped the benefits. For example, Chimpanzees are another group of brilliant animals. Not only have chimpanzees been known to problem solve and use tools, but they also have complex social dynamics in which individuals are low or high-ranking members. On the other hand, Bonobos, closely related to chimpanzees, are supposedly better at solving puzzles, according to The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp. Amusingly, while both chimps and bonobos showed an ability to understand the puzzles, neither group was compelled to solve them.

23. Orangutans

Mother orangutan (orang-utan) with funny cute baby on hers neck in theirs natural environment in the rainforest on Borneo (Kalimantan) island with trees and palms behind.
Credit: Shutterstock

Orangutans are astonishing creatures who’ve demonstrated the capacity to recall and then “discuss” the past. For example, in 2018, researchers conducted an experiment in which Orangutans responded to the threat of a predator up to 20 minutes later to avoid alerting the predator of their presence, teaching their young that an encounter with a predator is dangerous.

24. Macaques

A family of long-tailed macaque monkeys playing in nature in Singapore.
Credit: Shutterstock

Macaques are another example of intelligent animals who have complex social structures as well as behaviors. Moreover, they adapt their behaviors to fit their social environments and learn from observation.

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25. Gorillas

A female mountain gorilla with a baby. Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
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Gorillas are one of the largest primates, and thanks to the work of Jane Goodall, we know so much about their emotional and cognitive abilities. These include their ability to pick up sign language, mourn the loss of another gorilla from their family, and are gentle giants.

26. Bees are among the World’s Smartest Animals

Bee and flower. Close up of a large striped bee collects honey on a yellow flower on a Sunny bright day. Macro horizontal photography. Summer and spring backgrounds
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Bees are a vital part of the ecosystem but exhibit signs of intelligence beyond what most people assume. They dance to inform other bees of a nearby food source and spatial awareness. Bees are also highly social creatures, working together under a queen, to whom they’re unwaveringly devoted.

27. Ants

team work, ants constructing bridge
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While ants can be incredibly pesky, they’re also smart and organized. Starting with the social structure in which a queen rules and ending with their precision while traveling, ants are seemingly far more complex creatures than they’re given the credit. For example, ants engage in farming practices like cultivating fungi and herding aphids for honeydew.

28. Portia Labiata is one of the World’s Smartest Animals

Macro shot, Beautiful natural landscape Phidippus regius jumping spider action on green leaf. Shows eye details. Use Phidippus regius jumping spider predator natural habitat as background or wallpaper

The Portia Labiata is a prime example of brilliance in animals. This species of jumping spider has a variety of complex behaviors, including trial-and-error learning. Although it’s one of the brightest, this spider isn’t the only spider to use tools and complicated planning for both building a home and capturing food.

29. Hyenas

A lioness, Panthera leo, runs with ears back and mouth open from spotted hyenas, Crocuta crocuta
Credit: Shutterstock

Hyenas, like dogs, are social creatures who communicate through body language and their own complex vocabulary. Hyenas work and live together in packs, hunting and defending their territory.

30. Humans

Portrait Of Smiling Young Friends Walking Outdoors Together
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Although it’s pretty likely this measurement is biased, it’s still worth noting that humans are incredibly intelligent animals. Humans have invented countless breakthroughs in technology, healthcare, architecture, and so on. We could go on, but let’s try to be modest.

Read More: Study Finds ‘Rollie Pollies’ Remove Heavy Metals From Soil, Protects Groundwater


  1. Which Animal is the Smartest Britannica
  2. 30 Smartest Animals In The World. MSN
  3. Top 10 smartest animals in the world. BBC Patrick Pester July 13, 2023.