21 Most Intelligent Animals in the World

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Scientists have been fascinated by the intellectual capabilities of non-human animals for decades. In 2015, Princeton researchers explored the collective intelligence of ants, citing colonies as a potential model for swarm robotics. In 2021, a cuttlefish passed a cognitive test designed for human children. 

From tool use to impeccable memorization skills to innate sonar abilities, many animals possess impressive forms of intelligence. Some of the smartest animals are unexpected, while others, like primates and dogs, are well-known for their intelligence. (These are the smartest dog breeds in America.)

To compile a list of some of the smartest animals, 24/7 Tempo reviewed dozens of news articles about studies in which animals were subject to tests to determine their level of intelligence. Our sources include Smithsonian Magazine, ScienceDirect, ScienceDaily, and BBC Earth

How do animals demonstrate smarts? Intelligence comes in many different forms. Some of the animals on our list show intelligence through the use of tools, some can solve intricate puzzles, and some possess a unique ability to communicate. (Animals can share another human trait, unfortunately: Here are 17 animals that have caught COVID.) 

Four of the most intelligent animals are in the same taxonomic order as humans: Primates. Those include bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas – all of whom demonstrate high levels of intelligence. These primates use tools, have complex social interactions, and even demonstrate empathy.

Four of the most intelligent animals are categorized within the clade “Ungulata,” which is a grouping that includes hooved animals and some sea mammals, like elephants, goats, pigs, and dolphins. These three ungulates have complex social structures, and excellent memories.

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