We are far from the only intelligent species on Earth. If among all the animals, Sapiens has in the space of a few centuries imposed its presence on the planet, causing the extinction of many species, other living beings are distinguished by their cognitive capacities. Here are the ten animals considered to be the smartest by science.
However, it should be noted that the definition of intelligence is subjective. It is commonly understood as the ability to adapt to one’s environment. Human intelligence is thus characterized, in particular, by the ability to communicate, self-awareness, creativity, the ability to think in an abstract way, language or even the ability to solve problems.
Animal intelligence could thus be measured in other ways, but in the absence of sufficient knowledge, we currently measure it with the same criteria as ours. And recent scientific discoveries show, one after another, that the species with which we share the planet are much smarter than we have long thought.
Considered the most intelligent invertebrate, the octopus has a huge brain, which like ours is made up of two parts. They are able to use tools, devise complex strategies to hide or protect themselves from danger, and even escape from an aquarium.
Even more fascinating, they can be playful, and some have even been observed playing catch. They are also able to recognize a particular human, as evidenced by this beautiful story between a diver and an octopus, which was the subject of a documentary .
Not content with being the animals that are the closest genetically to humans, pigs are among the most intelligent and sociable animals on the planet.
Science has thus been able to establish that they have an excellent long-term memory , are able to understand symbolic language, have the notion of time (they are able to remember their past and anticipate the future), and have with an excellent capacity for orientation.
Social beings, they know how to distinguish individuals, whether their species or humans, and evolve in complex social communities.
They are also able to empathize, feel emotions, each have a different personality, and are self-aware (in front of a mirror, they recognize themselves).
They also know how to set up stratagems to deceive others, which proves that they are capable of putting themselves in the other’s shoes.
Birds in general have great intelligence, but crows stand out in more than one way. They are thus the only vertebrates apart from primates (of which we are a part) capable of inventing and using tools. A famous study has thus that a crow could grab a metal wire, bend it using the edge of a table to make a hook, and thus go and retrieve a fruit that was initially inaccessible. Even more surprisingly, crows are able to teach their young ones techniques.
They also know how to recognize different human faces, exchange complex concepts with their peers, and have the ability to imagine the future.
According to scientists, the intelligence of an adult crow is thus comparable to that of a seven-year-old child.
Recent research has established that pigeons are able to understand concepts like time and space.
“The cognitive capacity of birds is even closer to that of humans and great apes”, explained in 2017 Edward Wasserman, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Iowa (United States) and author of a study on the question published in Current Biology . “In fact, these avian nervous systems have a lot more capacity than the pejorative phrase ‘having a bird’s brain’ suggests,” he added.
Another study had shown that a pigeon’s brain has a density of neurons six times higher than a human brain. The average distance between two pigeon nerve cells is 50% shorter than between two human neurons, so information can be processed faster.
While we often think of the cow as only good at making milk or being eaten, we are less often aware that it is an extremely intelligent and social animal.
Studies have shown how cows are able to activate complex mechanisms to obtain food (pulling a latch with the tongue to open a gate, for example). They also have an “excellent
capacity for spatial learning and knowledge of space,” as explained by Dr Rebecca Doyle of the University of Melbourne.
With excellent hearing and sight, they are also very curious and enjoy discovering new situations.
They also feel emotions, especially the cow with her calf. Thus, when the two are separated by the breeders to take their milk from the mother, both mourn in distress for several days.
Evolving in complex and hierarchical social environments, they establish friendships and are stressed when separated from one of their congeners to whom they are close.
Finally, sensitive to their environment, they do not like certain surfaces that are too hard and do not like to move on soil strewn with excrement, as is often the case in breeding farms.
The expression “an elephant’s memory” is highly justified. Their cerebral cortex is the largest among land mammals.
This allows him, for example, to remember the exact location of a source of water and food within a radius of 600 km, to memorize sounds and even to distinguish human languages.
Elephants are also endowed with developed emotional abilities. On several occasions, “elephant funerals have been observed. Several individuals gather around the corpse of one of their own, sometimes covering it with earth and leaves.
And when an elephant is unhappy, it is not uncommon to see other individuals around it, rubbing it, as if to console it.
Finally, they are able to pass on knowledge to their little ones, such as how to dig a hole to find water, or even make a ball with bark to fill in the same hole so that the water does not leak. ‘evaporates.
Man’s best friend is unsurprisingly found in this – subjective – list of the most intelligent animals.
The first animal domesticated by humans, 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, it has developed an exceptional ability to understand its emotions and even its language. We consider that a dog is able to understand on average nearly 165 human words. The record, held by a sheepdog, is even 1,022 words .
Very observant, they know how to interpret not only the emotions of humans, but also the relationships that two humans have with each other.
It should be noted that their exceptional sense of smell means that they evoke in a sensory universe different from ours, being able to perceive subtleties related to odors of which we are not even aware.
Dog owners are therefore advised to stimulate them as much as possible, by interacting with them or by making them discover new places.
Cats have nearly twice as many neurons as dogs (300 million against 160 million). They are also estimated to be as intelligent as a two-year-old human child.
Like humans, they are able to learn through observation. Opening a door, ringing a doorbell, turning on a light are all tasks that they can accomplish.
And their memory would allow them to remember events ten years later, more than half of a cat’s life. They will thus associate a sensation of pleasure with a noise, a smell … which explains why they run systematically when handling their bag of kibble.
As cat owners have also noticed, they remember objects and their location precisely, thus tending to make a small hiding place where they collect various objects.
Some scientists go so far as to argue that dolphins should be treated as “non-human people”.
It is now established that they have distinct personalities, are endowed with a strong sense of self, and that they are able to project themselves into the future. We also know that they are “cultural” beings, that is to say that they can learn new types of behavior from another dolphin. Thus, a dolphin which had learned to swim on its caudal fin then transmitted this knowledge to its congeners.
Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at New York University, also demonstrated that dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect different parts of their bodies, as do humans and great apes.
Able to cooperate, as when hunting, they operate in complex social environments, and are endowed with a high level of emotional sophistication.
Finally, let’s finish with our cousin and ancestor, the monkey. The expression “smart as a monkey” is not overused.
Thus, chimpanzees, with whom we share 99.4% of our DNA, handle the rules of politics, use tools, know how to learn from their mistakes, and even heal themselves. Researchers have observed chimpanzees using certain tree bark to purge themselves of their parasites. Some scientists believe that they should be included in the genus Homo, alongside Sapiens.
Able to recognize certain human words, they also have their own language, which we are just beginning to understand. Researchers have thus distilled up to six alarm calls emitted in sequences of 25 successive vocalizations, the latter varying according to the nature of the threat, the type of predator involved or the way in which they identified the danger. (noises, visual clues …).
Finally, a fascinating recent experiment showed that apes are more cognitively flexible than humans when it comes to problem solving. This allows them to achieve their goals faster than us when faced with certain situations.