Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ten Smartest Animals



humans have the ability to learn, to reason and solve problems. We're
self-aware, and we’re also conscious of the presence, thoughts and
feelings of others. We make tools and practice the art of deception.
We're creative. We think abstractly. We have language and use it to
express complex ideas. All of these are arguably signs of intelligence.
Scientists may not agree on the best and fullest definition of
intelligence – but they generally agree that humans are highly

Other members of the animal kingdom exhibit
signs of intelligence as well, and some scientists might say the
definition of animal vs. human intelligence is merely a matter of
degree – a point that was brought home in 2005 when the London Zoo put
“Homo sapiens” on display in the exhibit pictured here. Click the
"Next" arrow above to learn about nine other species that stand out for
their smarts.

Join the discussion on Newsvine: What distinguishes our intelligence from that of other animals?

-- John Roach, contributor

Chimps are almost like us
Tetsuro Matsuzawa / AP

Chimps are almost like us

we humans possess intelligence, chimpanzees must have some as well: Our
genomes are at least 98 percent identical. Chimps make and use tools,
hunt in organized groups and engage in acts of violence. Wild troops
have distinct behaviors and customs. Field observations and lab
experiments show chimps are capable of empathy, altruism and
self-awareness. In the experiment pictured here, chimps performed
better than humans on a number memory test.

Dolphins get creative
Janet Mann / Georgetown University

Dolphins get creative

dolphin in Australia uses a sponge to protect her snout when foraging
on the seafloor, a tool use behavior that is passed on from mother to
daughter. Scientists say that’s just one sign of dolphin smarts. Other
signs include distinct whistles and clicks that may serve as dolphin
names, perhaps used in a type of language. A famous 1960s experiment
found that a pair of dolphins entered a tizzy of creativity once they
figured out their novel behaviors were rewarded with fish. Frustrated
human test subjects just let out a sigh of relief when they caught on
to the idea.

Elephants exhibit self-awareness

Elephants exhibit self-awareness

sheer size of their brains suggests that elephants must know a thing or
two about the ways of the world. They have been seen consoling family
members, helping other species in times of need, playing in water and
communicating with one another via vibrations sensed in their feet. A
crowning achievement, some researchers say, was when this female Asian
elephant named Happy recognized herself in the mirror. The complex
behavior is shared only with humans, great apes and dolphins.

Cephalopods have big brains
Binyamin Hochner

Cephalopods have big brains

octopi, squids and cuttlefish smart? That’s a matter of scientific
intrigue, but such cephalopods are certainly among the brainiest
invertebrates in the sea. The cephalopod brain surrounds the esophagus,
but shares with the human brain features of complexity such as folded
lobes and distinct regions for processing visual and tactile
information. The how-smart debate swirls around deciphering
observations that the creatures have a seemingly irrepressible
curiosity, a disdain for boredom, an ability to learn and the capacity
to use tools. The octopus pictured here exerts precise muscle control
to eat.

Crows get crafty
Alex Kacelnik et al. / University of Oxford

Crows get crafty

are crafty critters: They fashion tools from twigs, feathers and other
bits of debris to snare food from hard-to-reach places. A crow named
Betty, pictured here, uses a straight wire she bent into a hook to
retrieve food from a tube. The birds are born with a tool-making ethic,
but they hone their craft by watching their elders, a sign of higher
intelligence. Ravens, a type of crow, have even been shown to
manipulate the outcomes of their social interactions for added
protection and more food.

Squirrels can be deceptive
Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images file

Squirrels can be deceptive

the squirrel pictured here plotting deception? Perhaps. Researchers
recently reported that the rodents put on elaborate shows of deceptive
caching to thwart would-be thieves. The behavior increased in a lab
experiment after squirrels observed humans stealing their peanuts. The
researchers called the finding a sign that squirrels can interpret
intentions of others, though it could just be a case of learned
behavior. Other studies have shown the critters make three-dimensional
maps to recall where they cache their nuts. And squirrels in California
will cover their fur in the scent of rattlesnakes to mask their own
scent from predators.

Man's best friend
University of Vienna

Man's best friend

dogs intelligent or just really good at basic obedience? They can learn
to sit, lie down and fetch, for example, but can they read their
owner's intentions? Research suggests they can at least find food in
response to non-verbal cues, a type of understanding that scientists
think may be akin to the human ability to understand someone else's
point of view. The dog in the experiment pictured here accurately
discriminated between photos of dogs and photos of landscapes – an
indication the dog was able to form the concept of "dog."

Cats are adaptable
Bob Pennell / AP

Cats are adaptable

dog owners, some cat owners have trained their pets to sit down, roll
over and jump through hoops. Cats learn the tricks by observation and
imitation, egged on with positive reinforcement. But training cats is
harder than dogs. Does that mean they are less intelligent? Not
necessarily. Cat experts say felines are just different. They are
solitary animals, motivated by the need to survive. This has allowed
them to adapt to a variety of domestic environments for at least 9,500
years – even the hoods of cars.

Pigs are wise � and clean
Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

Pigs are wise - and clean

the dirt on pigs: They are perhaps the smartest, cleanest domestic
animals known – more so than cats and dogs, according to some experts.
But pigs don't have sweat glands, so they roll around in the mud to
stay cool. A sign of their cleverness came from experiments in the
1990s. Pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their
snouts and used the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew
and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned the task as
quickly as chimpanzees.

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