Humans aren't the only intelligent creatures on Earth. As National Geographic points out, research proves that animals are much smarter than people realize. With that in mind meet some of the planet's cleverest creatures.
An Australian raven perched on a rail. (Photo: DickDaniels/Wikimedia Commons)
Ravens are more than the subject of dark themes by writer Edgar Allan Poe. They are also extremely resourceful animals that have been known to multi-task. Researchers from Canada and Scotland have shown that ravens use logic to understand their surroundings in a way that may surpass the ability of the great apes. The crow, a close cousin to the raven, is also an extremely smart bird.
Dolphins are well-documented as intelligent animals. As Discovery News reports, the dolphin’s large brain is structured for awareness and emotion. In fact, dolphin brains are more structurally complex than humans. As Emory University dolphin expert Lori Marino told Discovery News, "If human standards for intelligence are applied to non-human animals, however, dolphins come very close to our own brain aptitude levels."
Rats are much smarter than we humans often given them credit for. (Photo: Tambako The Jaguar/flickr)
Perceived as purveyors of disease, Rattus norvegicus have earned a bad reputation, but they are highly intelligent creatures. As researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario point out, "Although rats may not approach cognitive tasks using strategies observed in human subjects, they are frequently successful on their own terms. Indeed, rats are adept at exploiting procedural loopholes and confounded variables overlooked by human test designers."
Pigs may be the smartest domestic animals in the world. The New York Times reports on researchers who have found that domestic pigs can use mirrors to find their food, and will try to deceive other pigs so they can "hog" more food. They also learn quickly and can do tricks ranging from jumping through hoops to playing video games with joysticks.
Like some other chimps and apes, bonobos are capable of learning human sign languages to express themselves. (Photo: Psych USD/Wikimedia Commons)
The bonobo is a close cousin to the chimpanzee, another famously intelligent animal. Extremely endangered, the bonobo is found only in central Africa. Like other great apes, bonobos have been taught to use sign language and symbols. National Geographic writes of "the bonobo Kanzi, for instance, [who] carries his symbol-communication board with him so he can talk to his human researchers, and he has invented combinations of symbols to express his thoughts."
This isn't some quack of an inclusion. Ducklings imprint on their mothers, but scientists were curious about how the ducklings managed to differentiate between imprinted beings and non-imprinted. They put ducklings in an enclosure and trailed two different pairs of objects around on strings, one matching pair of shapes (like two spheres) and one pair of non-matching shapes (like a cylinder and a cube). After the duckling showed a tendency toward set, the researchers put the ducklings in a different enclosure with different matching and non-matching pairs. The ducklings would follow after whatever set best resembled their original imprint. So, if they followed the two spheres in the first enclosure, they would follow a set of matching cubes in the second enclosure. This tendency, according to researchers interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor, has only been seen in primates, crows and parrots before, indicating that ducks may be smarter than we've thought.
Elephants have a reputation for smarts. Elephants have been observed using tools such as sticks to pick at ticks or using palm fronds to swat at flies. As the Nature Institute points out, "many young elephants [in the wild] develop the naughty habit of plugging up the wooden bell they wear around their necks with good stodgy mud or clay so that the clappers cannot ring, in order to steal silently into a grove of cultivated bananas at night." The elephants will then gorge on the banana while the nearby farmer is none the wiser.
Cows are not only smart animals; they're also very emotional. (Photo: Marc Dalmulder/flickr)
Cows seem like placid animals merely concerned with chewing their cud. As it turns out, they possess a rich and complex emotional life. The Times reports that scientists have found that cows have friends and enemies. Further, "Cows are also capable of feeling strong emotions such as pain, fear and even anxiety — they worry about the future."
Bees exhibit what experts call classic swarm intelligence. A single bee may not be smart in the classical sense, but a hive of bees is. As National Geographic reports, swarm intelligence works when no single creature sees "the big picture." Rather, each works on simple rules in one location. But what happens when bees disagree? It turns out that they can hold a democratic "dance-off" to make a hive decision.
Squirrels are social learners. (Photo: ehpien/flickr)
Anyone who has ever seen a squirrel dart across a crowded street has wondered if it is aware of the danger. It turns out a squirrel may be — but if there is food on the opposite end of the street, it may not matter. Squirrels are fast learners, according to a recent study from Science Daily, and they learn from their peers. Stealing food is a trick that squirrels pass along.