• Question: what animal is the smartest , apart from humans ?

    Asked by caitlink0406 to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 20 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      You ask some cool questions, Caitlin. We aren’t even very good at measuring intelligence in humans. Mostly, you can only measure how good an animal is at solving problems related to what that type of animal does. Dogs are very smart at being dogs, cows are very smart at being cows.

      When it comes to flexibility at problem solving, primates are probably the best, followed by some types of birds and dogs. A lot of people think that dolphins are smart, but it’s hard to give them the same job as a dog to compare.

    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      Hi caitlin!

      I think that some small creatures are awesomely “smart” – insects like ants cleverly store up lots of food all summer and eat it all up to get nice and fat to carry them through the winter. But they don’t actually have much intelligence if you gave them an IQ test! My brothers pretty smart – he’s sort of like an animal!


    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Hi caitlink! This is such a good question. Intelligence is really tough to measure. But I personally think the best measure of animal intelligence I’ve come across is the mirror test. It’s meant to identify what species are “self-aware”, i.e. what species can actually recognize that they are seeing them self in a mirror. It seems so simple, but self recognition actually indicates a very high level of intelligence. Only a few species can do it. For one humans can, great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants, and European Magpies. This list is fairly consistent with what we commonly call the smartest animals – the great apes and dolphins and orcas for sure. What about elephants and magpies? Have you heard of them being vastly intelligent before? Well magpies are known to be able to make and use tools.

      But for me elephants take the cake. I personally think elephants are amazing and vastly under-appreciated. Apart from the fact that they have a language based on vibrations through the ground, and they literally build highways through the jungle, elephants have been known to bury their dead. They bury and mourn their dead! This is shocking because a major step in the advance of human civilization all those thousands years ago was when we started to bury our dead. Anthropologists see that as a major intellectual step forward for humans. Here elephants do it and somehow we don’t see it the same way. All I can say is we have a lot to learn, and to learn to appreciate in the animal kingdom!

      F.y.i. – Orangutans have been known to recognize photographs. I heard a great story of an orangutan that missed her ranger friend so she kept a picture of him in a safe place and occasionally took it out for viewing. It wasn’t just that she thought the picture was pretty either – she actually recognized him in the photo and missed him when she looked at it! Amazing!!

    • Photo: Kimberley Bryon

      Kimberley Bryon answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      I have heard that dolphins are the smartest apart from us although orangutans are really very smart too. Without googling this I don’t know which is the smartest off the top of my head. You ask lots or really good questions though, do you want to be a scientist? I think that you would make a really good one.