18 Animals With Incredible Problem-Solving Skills

Animals are far smarter than we often give them credit for. Many species have shown remarkable abilities to solve complex problems, often rivaling human intelligence in specific tasks. Let’s explore 18 animals that demonstrate extraordinary problem-solving skills, leaving us in awe of their cognitive abilities.


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Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees, are master problem-solvers. They use tools like sticks to fish for termites and rocks to crack open nuts. In labs, chimps have learned to use symbols and basic language to communicate with humans. They can even plan ahead, saving tools for future use, which shows a level of forethought once thought unique to humans.


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Octopuses are the brainiacs of the sea. These eight-armed wonders can unscrew jar lids, squeeze through tiny spaces, and even use coconut shells as portable shelters. In one famous escape, an octopus at the New Zealand National Aquarium repeatedly broke out of its tank at night to feast on fish in nearby exhibits. Their problem-solving skills are so advanced that some scientists argue they should be treated as sentient beings in research settings.


Attacking elephant
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Elephants have long been admired for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities. They’ve been observed using branches as fly swatters and digging wells to access underground water. In experiments, elephants have shown they can cooperate to pull two ends of a rope simultaneously to receive a reward, demonstrating an understanding of teamwork. They even seem to comfort each other in times of distress, showing emotional intelligence.


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Crows are among the smartest birds, with problem-solving skills that rival those of great apes. They craft tools from twigs and wire to retrieve food, and some have even learned to use cars as nutcrackers by dropping nuts in front of wheels at traffic lights. Crows can also recognize human faces and hold grudges against people who’ve wronged them, passing this information to other crows.


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Dolphins are renowned for their intelligence and social skills. They use echolocation to find food and navigate, but their problem-solving goes beyond that. Dolphins have been observed using sea sponges as protective nose guards while foraging on the seabed. They also demonstrate self-awareness by recognizing themselves in mirrors, a trait shared by only a few animal species.


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Pigs are much smarter than their reputation suggests. They can learn to play simple video games with joysticks, understand basic arithmetic, and even use mirrors to find hidden food. Pigs have been observed using tools and can quickly learn new routines. Their intelligence is often compared to that of a three-year-old child.


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Orangutans are skilled problem-solvers, especially when it comes to obtaining food. They use leaves as umbrellas and napkins, and sticks to test water depth or fish for termites. In captivity, orangutans have been known to unpick locks and even plan and communicate escape attempts. Their ability to learn and use human sign language demonstrates their advanced cognitive abilities.


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Often seen as nuisance animals, raccoons are actually quite clever. They can remember solutions to tasks for up to three years and have been observed using tools. In one study, raccoons quickly figured out how to unlock complex mechanisms to access food. Their adaptability in urban environments is a testament to their problem-solving skills.

Border Collies

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While many dogs are intelligent, Border Collies stand out for their exceptional problem-solving abilities. They can learn complex tasks and commands, often understanding over 1,000 words. One famous Border Collie named Chaser learned the names of over 1,000 objects and could retrieve them on command. Their ability to reason and solve puzzles makes them excel in agility competitions and as working dogs.


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Rats are surprisingly intelligent creatures. They can learn to play hide-and-seek with humans and even show signs of regret when making wrong choices. Rats demonstrate empathy, freeing trapped companions even when there’s no reward for doing so. Their problem-solving skills extend to navigating complex mazes and understanding cause-and-effect relationships.

African Grey Parrots

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African Grey Parrots are known for their exceptional vocal abilities, but their intelligence goes far beyond mimicry. They can understand abstract concepts, use human language meaningfully, and solve simple math problems. One famous African Grey named Alex could identify colors, shapes, and numbers, and even ask questions about objects, demonstrating a level of comprehension previously thought impossible in birds.


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Goats might seem like simple farm animals, but they’re surprisingly clever. They can solve complex puzzles to access food and remember how to complete tasks for at least 10 months. Goats have been observed using tools and can understand human cues, such as pointing. Their social intelligence allows them to learn from watching other goats solve problems.


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Despite their tiny brains, ants are remarkable problem-solvers. They work together to build bridges and rafts out of their own bodies, solve traffic problems in their colonies, and find the most efficient paths to food sources. Ants can even ‘teach’ each other new skills, a form of learning called tandem running. Their collective intelligence allows them to solve problems that would be impossible for a single ant.


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Bees are master navigators and communicators. They can solve simple math problems, understand the concept of zero, and make complex decisions about where to build new hives. Bees use a sophisticated ‘dance language’ to communicate the location of food sources to their hivemates. Recent studies suggest they might even understand abstract concepts like ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’.


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Squirrels are more than just acrobats of the tree world. They show impressive problem-solving skills, especially when it comes to accessing food. Squirrels can learn to navigate complex obstacle courses and remember the solutions for long periods. They’re also masters of deception, often pretending to bury nuts to throw off potential thieves.

New Caledonian Crows

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New Caledonian Crows are tool-making experts. They craft hooks from twigs to fish out grubs from trees, a skill once thought unique to humans. These crows can solve multi-step puzzles and have even demonstrated understanding of water displacement, dropping stones into water to raise its level and access floating food.

Kea Parrots

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Native to New Zealand, Kea Parrots are known for their curiosity and intelligence. They can solve logical puzzles and work together to complete tasks. Keas have been observed using tools and even disantling cars, seemingly out of sheer curiosity. Their playful nature and problem-solving abilities have earned them the nickname “clowns of the mountains.”


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Bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives. They excel at cooperative problem-solving, often outperforming human children in tasks that require teamwork. Bonobos can use tools, understand basic language, and even show empathy towards others. Their social intelligence is particularly advanced, using reconciliation and cooperation to solve conflicts within their groups.

Becky is a fervent wildlife enthusiast and pet care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. Her love for animals stretches beyond the domestic, embracing the wild tapestry of global fauna. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to OutlandishOwl through insightful articles, captivating wildlife information, and invaluable guidance on pet nutrition. Her work embodies a deep commitment to understanding the intricate lives of animals and a passion for educating others on sustaining natural habitats. Becky's hands-on conservation efforts and her knack for translating complex dietary science into practical pet feeding tips make her an indispensable voice for creatures great and small.

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