8 of the Smartest Animals That Learn Even Faster Than You

Think humans are the smartest animals? Raccoons pick locks, crows know physics, and bees hold democratic dance-offs.

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Raccoons pick locks

istock/&#169 Konstantin Yuganov

If you’re planning a whimsical animal burglary, you’ll definitely want a raccoon anchoring your squad. In a bizarre 1908 study by ethologist H.B. David, raccoons were able to pick complex locks in fewer than 10 attempts, even after the locks were rearranged or flipped upside-down. Various studies conducted from the '60s to the '90s found that raccoons also boast an impeccable memory, able to recall solutions to tasks for up to three years. Plus, a recent study showed raccoons can solve an ancient Greek puzzle that can even stump humans. Bonus fact: Thanks to their broad hearing range, raccoons literally hear earthworms moving underground. (How this will benefit you in your heist is for you to determine.)

Crows know physics

istock/Ocskaymark

Not only can crows recognize faces to differentiate between predatory and benign species, they also understand basic physics (like this lab crow who mastered water displacement to maneuver a treat within reach), have been known to change entire migration patterns to avoid farms where crows have been killed in the past, and may even memorize city garbage routes so they can snag the inevitable food droppings on trash day. Talk about some of the smartest animals! Cool, calculating, and known to harbor a grudge, crows shouldn’t be compared to gangsters, per se, but we do feel obligated to remind you that a group of them is called a murder. Still, they aren't as creepy as these 15 gross animals that will make your skin crawl.

Pigs use mirrors

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Pigs may as well be man’s best friend, according to a 2015 paper from the International Journal of Comparative Psychology. Like dogs, pigs have been shown to understand emotions, demonstrate empathy, solve mazes, learn simple symbolic languages and, most adorably, make best friends. As some of the smartest animals in the world, the youngest pigs even put our youngest humans to shame. In an experiment where wee British piglets had to use mirrors to divine the path to a hidden bowl of food, piggies as young as six weeks old learned the concept of reflection within a few hours—a milestone that takes baby humans several months to grasp. Oh, and adding to their list of accomplishments, pigs could become organ donors for humans in the future.

Octopi are master escape artists

istock/Micha? Adamczyk

True prison-breakers of the sea, these tentacled creatures have proven time and again their talents for popping lids off screw-top jars, compressing their bulky bodies through slit-small holes, and climbing impossibly out of aquarium tanks to their freedom. Otto, a German aquarium octopus, was even known to throw rocks at the glass and spray water at overhead lamps to short-circuit the annoyingly bright lights (on more than one occasion). Add to their rap sheet the recent innovation of assembling shelters from coconut shells, and there’s no denying cephalopods will one day be our overlords. But would you call their plural "octopuses" or "octopi"? Learn the truth behind that and 10 other irregular plural words that don't sound right.

Squirrels use sleight of hand

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If you’ve ever second-guessed yourself while trying to remember an online account password, know that you have stooped to sub-squirrel intelligence. According to a Princeton University study, grey squirrels are capable of remembering where thousands of nuts are buried—for months at a time. (Don't miss these 13 adorably funny squirrel photos.) They’ll even use subterfuge to trick would-be nut takers; in a 2010 study, squirrels who knew they were being watched dug fake caches for their nuts, making a show of digging holes and patting them over with dirt while hiding their precious nuts under their armpits or in their mouth until they could find a more suitable hiding spot elsewhere. As if they couldn't get any cooler, read this sweet story about an orphaned baby squirrel that will make you want to adopt one.

Dolphins cheat

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Dolphins are often cited as the second smartest animals on Earth due to their relatively high brain-to-body size ratio, the capacity to show emotion, and impressive mimicry of the dumb apes who research them. Now, findings from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi suggest dolphins may also be the second-sneakiest animals on Earth. When dolphins at the Institute were trained to pick up litter in their tanks and exchange them with trainers for fish, one dolphin named Kelly discovered a way to game the system. By hiding scraps of litter under a rock in her tank, Kelly discretely tore single sheets of discarded paper into multiple pieces, then turned them in one at a time to maximize her fishy reward. Kelly’s clever deception, it seems, was no accident; researchers say she did it all on porpoise. (If you like puns, there's more where that came from. Check out this advice on how to write the perfect pun, according to a competitive punner.)

Bees hold dance-offs

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Honeybees have evolved what we call “swarm intelligence,” with up to 50,000 workers in a single colony coming together to make democratic decisions. When a hive gets too crowded in springtime, colonies deploy scouts to look for a new home. If any scouts disagree on where the colony should build its next hive, they argue their case the civilized way: through a dance-off. Each scout performs a “waggle dance” for other scouts in an attempt to convince them of their spot’s merit; the more enthusiastic the dance, the happier the scout was with his spot. The remainder of the colony votes with their bodies, flying to the spot they prefer and joining in the dance until one potential hive reigns #1 bee disco of the neighborhood. Alas, if only Congress settled their disagreements the same way. Don't miss these other 12 myths about bees and other animals that everyone still believes.

Elephants don’t need Facebook

istock/Lorraine Boogich

In case you’ve forgotten, elephants have incredible memories. They’re able to recall specific routes to watering holes over incredible stretches of terrain and over the span of many years—and they never forget a friend, either. In 1999, an elephant named Shirley arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Immediately, a resident elephant named Jenny became animated and playful. It wasn’t love at first sight; Jenny remembered Shirley from when they performed briefly in a circus together—22 years earlier. Don't feel bad about your own poor memory though—check out these 9 quirky habits that prove you're smart.

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