Elephants comfort each other by “hugging” with their trunks.


Battle of the Brains

Many animals show amazing signs of intelligence.

Not all gamers are human. At Purdue University in Indiana, researchers recently trained four pigs to play a simple video game. The pigs learned to use their snouts to move a joystick. If they hit a target on the screen, they got a reward. 

These pigs are just one example of how smart animals can be. Scientists don’t all agree on what makes an animal smart. But the ability to use tools, solve problems, and learn new skills are usually considered signs of intelligence. Here are some animals that scientists rank among the brainiest.



Dolphins may be the smartest sea creatures. Each identifies itself with a unique whistle—similar to the way we use our names. Some dolphins can remember the whistles of others they haven’t seen in 20 years!

Also, dolphins use teamwork to solve problems. In one study, two dolphins figured out how to pull ropes at the same time to open a container of fish. The pair “chatted” about the task by making clicking sounds.

These animals are skilled at using tools. Some bottlenose dolphins near Australia wear sea sponges on their beaks. The sponges protect the dolphins’ beaks as they look for food along the jagged seafloor.


Elephants have the largest brains of any land animal—and they put their big noggins to work. In one test, an elephant at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., couldn’t reach a piece of fruit hanging from a high branch. So it rolled a box under the tree and stood on it to grab the treat.

In the wild, elephants use their trunks to grasp a variety of tools. They scratch their backs with long sticks and swat flies with tree branches! They also have amazing memories. African elephants can remember routes to water sources they haven’t visited in years. 

Tier Und Naturfotografie J und C Sohns/Getty Images

A chimp eats termites after fishing them from a mound with a stick.


Great apes—a group that includes gorillas and orangutans—are known for their smarts. Among them, chimpanzees really stand out. In 1960, chimps in Tanzania, a country in Africa, were the first animals observed using tools. Wild chimps use sticks to scoop termites from their mounds. The practice is known as termite fishing. Chimps often learn this skill by watching others—a sign of intelligence. 

Some chimps have even matched humans on tests of their brainpower. In a 2017 study in Japan, a group of chimps learned to play rock-paper-scissors as well as a 4-year-old child.

Steve Bloom Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Some octopuses protect themselves by hiding inside seashells.


Octopuses have a central brain and a complex nervous system. These enable each of their eight arms to move independently. 

The veined octopus was the first invertebrate to be seen using tools. It carries seashells or broken coconut shells. The animal hides inside—either for protection or to sneak up on its prey. 

Speaking of being sneaky, in 2016, an octopus in an aquarium in New Zealand made a daring escape. It squirmed through a tiny opening in its tank, scooted across the floor, and wiggled down a narrow pipe that led to the ocean.

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  1. Based on the article, what are some reasons animals use tools?
  2. How is a dolphin’s unique whistle similar to a human name?
  3. Why does the author mention an octopus’s brain and nervous system?
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