5 Animals That Are Definitely Smarter Than Some of Us

#EcoList of Things We Love

We humans tend to think that because we rule the food chain, we’re the most intelligent animals on Earth. Are we, though? Using some basic everyday measures, it’s obvious these five animals are definitely smarter than some of us.

1. Beavers never need to call the plumber.

Beaver by patgaines/Flickr.

Beavers are master builders, among other things. A beaver is a city planner, architect, hydroengineer and contractor all rolled up into one dog-sized, semiaquatic rodent. This documentary closely observes a colony of beavers as they build a dam, personal waterways for safe travel, winter-proof larder, and a three-room home complete with concealed entrances and a chimney. Beavers are more than capable of fixing any leaks that spring in their structures — and studies show they’re highly attentive to the sound of trickling water.

2. Ants don’t get into traffic jams.

Photo by zhraju2003/Flickr.

Ants never sit in traffic jams. No stop-and-go, gridlock, road rage or fantasizing about quitting their day jobs. Actually, traffic scientists study ants because they’re so much better than we are at handling traffic. What’s their secret?

In heavy traffic, ants move more carefully. They speed up rather than slowing down, and if one ant is moving too slowly the other ants just pass it, typically on the right. They travel in multiple lanes, switching directionality as needed. And unlike humans, ants in heavy traffic don’t resort to flow-disrupting, ego-driven power moves like cutting each other off or tailgating. Pretty smart.

3. Dolphins never forget a name.

Photo by jeaneeem/Flickr.

When a dolphin is a calf, it gives itself a name it keeps for life. This name is a distinctive whistle. The dolphin identifies itself by this whistle, as do other dolphins. Dolphins greet each other by exchanging their whistles and have been observed to remember them for decades. Dolphin communication is still an area of scientific exploration, but studies indicate that dolphins may have complex language, and probably use sonar to communicate as well as voices and bodies.

4. Dogs can kinda tell when you’re lying to them.

Dubious dog by Russell McSpadden.

Dogs are careful observers of our body language, can distinguish between our tones of voice, and use data they gather on us to form abstract mental representations of our emotional states. A study published earlier this year found that dogs were able to tell when their trainer spoke words (like praise) that did not match intonation (like disappointment). To put it another way: Dogs know when you’re feeding them a line.

5. Honeybees work together democratically for the common good.

Photo by by terrylorenc/Flickr.

Every year when a honeybee hive becomes overcrowded, the colony splits into two groups. One group stays behind in the old hive; the other must find leave to establish a new community. And as described in Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley, this critical project — which includes scouting locations, debating their relative merits and making a decision — is conducted democratically.

So honeybees communicate with each other and work together to establish and maintain a peaceful society that reflects the will of the majority.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Flotsam is a list of things we think are cool. Send us your ideas at flotsam@biologicaldiversity.org.