Octopus and Other Smart Animals

As humans we often forget that we are not the only “intelligent” life forms that live on Earth. Sure, other creatures may not speak like we do, but it doesn’t mean the don’t show signs of emotional intelligence. Take the octopus for example, who displays strong communication skills and has the ability to understand and use tools. In today’s blog, we’ll highlight some “smart” animals and how they have adapted to, and interpreted, the world around them. 


The “Smart” Octopus

Octopus, and all cephalopods for that matter, have large, well-developed brains. That, plus their complex nervous system, allows for precise movement and control. This is especially necessary as they are predators in the food chain and need to the ability to locate and capture their prey. Scientists believe that is this primal instinct that led to the development of their intelligence. 

Furthermore, this evolution has led to other signs of emotional and social awareness: octopus are able to communicate with one another via signals. 

There are four types of communication:

On top of this, octopus have been shown to be playful creatures: in captivity, they have been observed releasing and catching toys. They also have been known to repurpose shells for shelter, and it has been noted that they need stimulation or they become lethargic. Aquariums combat this by giving them puzzles. One such is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. 

What is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment?

This is a study about delayed gratification. The original experiment used children who were offered the choice between one small but immediate reward, or two small rewards if they waited for a period of time. Octopus have been observed displaying future planning skills by waiting for the second reward.

Other Clever Animals

Octopus aren’t the only smart animals. Here are some other creatures who display signs of intelligence:


These birds are extremely resourceful and have been known to multi-task. They are able to understand their surroundings and have been shown to complete a series of complicated tasks to retrieve treats without the help of human interference. 


An underwater creature that can dwell with the octopus. Like humans, dolphins are able to recognise themselves in the mirror. There are not a lot of creatures who can do this. Their brains allow for awareness, emotion, and communication. In fact, they’re even more structurally complex than human brains! 


If you live in a small apartment you might want to consider getting a rat. They can be trained just like dogs to fetch and roll over. What’s more, they have been shown to find their way through complicated mazes. 


Pigs are up there with dolphins in terms of social intelligence. They can outwit fellow hogs for food, and can even learn how to play video games with a joy stick! 


Monkeys and apes in general are very clever. The bonobo is a close cousin to the chimpanzee. One such bonobo, Kanzi, taught himself sign language just by watching videos of a Gorilla using it. What’s more, Kanzi can cook his own food and is shown to have more cognitive ability than a toddler. 


You may know the phrase ‘elephants never forget’. Well, that’s because they’re known to have excellent memories. They can recognise members of their herd even after years of separation, and are able to locate old water sources.


The smallest animal on this list, bees display what experts call “classic swarm intelligence”. A hive of bees are able to locate new nests, collect and share information, and “vote” on which location would serve them best. 


Rounding of our list of clever animals joining the octopus, is the squirrel. Squirrels are able to learn from their peers. Additionally, they’re also able to trick them. We know that squirrels bury their food in preparation for the colder months, but sometimes they’ll only pretend to do this in order to trick any onlooking animals who might try to steal from them. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo Clubs. Don't let after-school be an afterthought - join Gooroo's online platform centred around hands-on project-based learning!