These Animals Are Way Smarter Than Us

Mother elephant with two babies

Diana Robinson / Getty Images

Bodies that work with the Earth's magnetic field to determine location. Female-only societies. Telling whether you're a friend or a jerk there to make trouble with just one whiff. Homes so efficient they keep one steady temperature all the time. No, we're not talking about new X-Men or other comic book characters, we're talking about animals with skills we can only dream of.

These seven animals are way smarter than us -- just another reason to pay some respect when we encounter them in the wild.

1. Homing Pigeons

Group of carrier pigeons in a cage
Jacqueline Veissid / Getty Images

While most humans need several types of maps and a compass to find their way home after a long journey, the homing pigeon can return from extremely long distances (more than 1,100 miles) without any guidance.

Well, as a matter of fact, they do have some help: According to research by the University of Frankfurt, these pigeons have iron-containing structures in their beaks, which help them sense the Earth's magnetic field independent of their motion and posture, and thus identify their geographical position.

2. Ants

Weaver ants making a bridge across leaves
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Despite their size, the world's varieties of ants have many skills. One of the most impressive is the mycocepurus smithii from the Amazon, a super feminist species that has developed the ability to reproduce via cloning -- dispensing with both sex and males -- to evolve into an all-female breed.

According to research from the University of Arizona, it's not clear when the change happened, but by reproducing without sex, the ants avoid the energetic cost of producing males and double the number of reproductive females produced each generation.

Unlike us humans, ants have also learned super efficient ways to organize their traffic. And 2006 research by the Berkeley University of California has established that the trap-jaw ant (odontomachus bauri) can close its mandibles at an incredible speed: The strike lasts 0.13 milliseconds, 2,300 times faster than the blink of an eye. This allows them to jump enormous heights for their size.

3. Elephants

A herd of elephants on the move in arid Tsavo East National Park, Kenya
Nigel Pavitt / AWL Images / Getty Images

They're huge, and sometimes they seem tired and slow. But it's no surprise that this mammal's peculiar nose is really something: Research from the University of St. Andrews suggests that elephants can keep track of up to 30 absent members of their family by sniffing out their scent and building a mental map of where they are. How useful would this little feature be for moms with several kids?

Even better, according to another study by the same University, elephants can tell whether a human is friendly or a threat by their scent and color of clothing. So good luck trying to fool them.

4. Termites

termite mounds
John W. Banagan / Getty Images

In Zimbabwe, the termite species Macrotermes michaelseni has developed a precise technique to farm a specific fungus they feed on. As this fungus can only grow at 87 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures outside range from 104 degrees Fahrenheit during day and 35 degrees Fahrenheit at night, the termites have come up with a system to keep the temperature steady in their mounds by constantly opening and closing heating and cooling vents.

This is such a useful idea that Loughborough University has conducted research in order to use the same technique in human buildings. Case in point -- the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe has been modeled after the termites' system.

View Article Sources
  1. Springer. "Homing Pigeons Get Their Bearings From Their Beaks." ScienceDaily, 19 Mar. 2007.

  2. Himler, Anna G., et al. "No Sex in Fungus-Farming Ants or Their Crops." Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 276, no. 1667, 22 July 2009, doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0313

  3. Yang, Sarah. "Ant Jaws Break Speed Record, Propel Insects into Air, Biologists Find." UCBerkeleyNews. 21 Aug. 2006.

  4. Bates, Lucy A., et al. "African Elephants Have Expectations About the Locations of Out-of-Sight Family Members." Biology Letters, vol. 4, no. 1, 4 Dec. 2007, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0529

  5. Smet, Anna F., and Richard W. Byrne. "African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana) Recognize Visual Attention From Face and Body Orientation." Biology Letters, vol. 10, no. 7, July 2014, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2014.0428