While we are using our complex brain functions and opposable thumbs to DVR reality television, animals are doing amazing things with what they've got. Creatures continue to amaze scientists and civilians alike with how much they know and understand. The following animals are at the top of their class, performing difficult tasks that folks once thought only humans could do.
What Makes Them Smart: Rats have the ability to navigate and outsmart mazes made by celebrated scientific minds. The animals also dream in a way that is similar to humans, and have shown signs of being self-aware and altruistic.
Recent Discovery: We may see this creature as a pest, but they have us evenly matched in at least one respect. Researchers recently found that rats can integrate different sensory cues to analyze a situation as well as humans can. (IO9)
What Makes Them Smart: Octopi can figure out tasks like opening jars, and are known escape artists. Additionally, these creatures have a knack for problem solving, camouflage, navigation and accessing short-term memory.
Recent Discovery: Octopi enjoy playing with toys, as one lab working with animals found out. When given plastic bottles, several of the creatures used a stream of water to send the bottle back and forth, like a child bouncing a ball. (Orion)
8. AFRICAN GREY PARROT
What Makes Them Smart: African grey parrots have learned and can mimic a large vocabulary of words, and can even understand what those words mean. Also, when put in teams, these birds are great problem solvers.
Recent Discovery: Authorities and scientists were astounded when a lost African grey parrot could recite its owner's name and complete address when prompted. This scenario reinforced scientists' beliefs that these parrots have a deeper understanding of language. (NBC News)
What Makes Them Smart: Don't believe the rumors. Pigs are highly intelligent and trainable creatures. Some researchers believe the animal's intelligence is comparable to that of a 3-year-old human child, and that pigs are the smartest domestic animal around. Additionally, pigs have shown an impressive ability to focus and memorize pictures.
Recent Discovery: When it comes to video games, pigs have dogs beat. Scientists were able to train swine to play a simple video game with their snouts, which the animals took to better than most canines. (Complex)
What Makes Them Smart: Don't cross a crow; they are slick birds. Crows and jays know how to use tools, play games, and have been recorded pulling tricks on each other. The birds have a complex dialect that varies based on population.
Recent Discovery: Seriously, don't cross a crow. Scientists have come to believe that this bird can remember faces of people they find dangerous. Crows most likely remember these faces for their lifetimes, and may recruit family members to mob disliked individuals. (Discovery)
5. RHESUS MONKEYS
What Makes Them Smart: These monkeys share 93 percent of their genetic DNA with humans. As a result, they have facial expressions and emotions similar to people. Additionally, rhesus monkeys are believed to be self-aware, and have the ability to learn and make self-decisions.
Recent Discovery: Rhesus monkeys almost have college students outsmarted in simple math. A study showed that when rhesus monkeys and college students were given addition problems to do without the use of language, the animals finished as fast as the humans. (Digital Journal)
What Makes Them Smart: Of course we know elephants never forget. They also use tools, clean their food, follow humans commands and have a great capacity for empathy for those close to them. People have witnessed elephants holding sick loved ones, conducting burial rituals and mourning their dead.
Recent Discovery: Not only can elephants use tools, but they can use them on the fly. Staff at the Smithsonian National Zoo recently witnessed their elephant, Kandula, having an "Aha!" moment, using insight to solve an unexpected puzzle. Kandula did this by using a toy as an improvised stool to reach food on a branch. (Science Mag)
What Makes Them Smart: Orangutans have shown deep cognitive abilities and culture. The great apes have been seen using tools that vary geographically. They also have strong social bonds and communication skills that set them apart from other animals.
Recent Discovery: Orangutans gave researchers a pleasant surprise when they combined communication and tools. The great apes were seen use twigs to alter the sound of their calls as a warning to other animals about predators. Talk about multi-tasking!
What Makes Them Smart: Dolphins are the Einsteins of the sea. These creature have the capacity for complex thinking and following commands. As extremely social animals, dolphins have been recorded playing, mourning and racing in their pods. The also have a surprisingly intricate language and understanding of tools.
Recent Discovery: Humans just made a breakthrough in deciphering the way dolphins communicate. A speaker has been created that hopefully can replicate the varying frequencies the animal uses to speak. If this invention works, humans could possibly decode the complex language that dolphins have created.
Next: Deaf Dog Learns Sign Language
What Makes Them Smart: This animal tops the list for its amazing, advanced problem-solving. Chimps can use and understand sign language, and most astoundingly, they can combine symbols and objects to convey complex ideas. Because of their higher thinking, chimps have an impressive social structure.
Recent Discovery: One the world's smartest chimps, Ayumu, flexed his mind muscles recently, showing how strong the primate brain can be. Ayumu can memorize a set of numbers in less time than it takes a human to blink, solving puzzles in 60 milliseconds. (BBC Nature)