Smart Animals and the Studies About Them

Humans have been fascinated with the intelligence of animals for years, and many studies have been done to learn more about how smart they are. The more scientists learn about animals and the different things they can learn to do, the more surprised we are at how smart many animals are. The smartest animals are as smart as 5- to 7-year-old children!

Parrots can Pick Locks

Parrots are very smart, and they have demonstrated this for years. One reason it’s easy to see that parrots are smart is that they are highly trainable, like dogs. In a study of cockatoos, it was found that they were very skilled at figuring out how to solve puzzles involving locks with different mechanisms including bolts, pins, and screws. The birds figured it out. Then, the scientists rearranged the locks, and the cockatoos did it again. Not only were they smart enough to solve the puzzles, but they were also patient and willing to work for a long time, an important aspect of learning and discovery.

Crows Solve Puzzles

Crows are one of the most intelligent animals on earth. Scientists know crows can learn to use tools and adapt them in different ways. Crows can solve puzzles, and they can think ahead to plan a strategy for solving puzzles with several steps. 

 Scientists now think that one species of crow may have the puzzle-solving abilities of a 7-year-old human! This crow lives on islands off the coast of Australia. In one interesting experiment, based on one of Aesop’s fables, the crows were challenged with displacing water by adding stones until the water level was high enough for the birds to reach bits of floating meat. The crows showed they knew exactly how water displacement worked by ignoring the tubes with only sand in them and focusing on the ones that contained water. 

 Dolphins Name Each Other

Scientists have known that dolphins talk to each other for a long time. Specifics of how they communicate, what they say, and how complex this language is are being researched. We now know that dolphins call each other by specific whistles, and when another individual calls one of them, they respond by repeating their special name. Because dolphins are social and learn to know each other, they need a way to communicate, identify with each other, and stay together. 

 Dolphins also have very long memories. In one case, two dolphins knew each other when they were younger but then were moved to different zoos. 20 years later, the distinctive whistle of one dolphin’s name still attracted the attention of the other one. 

Elephants Work Together

In a study designed to test the cooperation of elephants, scientists discovered they work together 80% of the time in order to get food. The test contained a table with a rope that had to be pulled from both ends in order to gain access to the food. When the elephants pulled at the same time, they both got food. The elephants continued to cooperate with each other even when they weren’t allowed to choose their own partners. 

The only time they were less likely to work together was when there wasn’t enough food on the table for both animals. This is interesting as the same thing tends to be true of other cooperative animals and humans.

Chimpanzees Talk with Gestures

Wild chimpanzees use gestures to talk to each other, just like humans. Researchers have studied this behavior and have learned the meaning of these communications. Scientists say it’s important to understand the difference between calls, which many animals use, and communicating messages which only a few can do. Chimpanzees use gestures to talk to each other and can say things like “climb on my back”, “Let’s groom” and other messages. The researchers translated a vocabulary of 66 distinct gestures that the animals use in the wild.

Dogs Recognize Their Native Language

While dogs don’t really have a native language, they do know the difference between the language they usually hear and foreign languages. Scientists gave dogs MRI scans while reading to them in several languages. When they studied the scans, they found that different areas of the brain were used depending on which language was heard. This means that dogs learn more than specific commands, they also learn the sounds and patterns of the language itself. The scientists proved what dog owners already know- that dogs are remarkably social. However, the study shows that they are perhaps more receptive to social cues than anyone knew.


As we learn more about specific animals and the different things they can do, the ways they think, and how they learn, it’s become evident that animals have a variety of ways of being intelligent, just like people do. When given the same puzzle to solve, for example, parrots and crows both figured it out, but they did it in different ways. Parrots and crows are both very intelligent but learn in different ways. 


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