Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Which animal is considered the least intelligent of all the animals?
October 27, 2010 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Turkeys drowning by looking up is a myth; so which animal IS the dumbest?

Google search turns up domesticated turkeys, sheep, afghan hounds, cows, and several others, but no definitive answer. There might not be a scientifically proven answer, but is there a set of cognitive measurements that can determine which few animals might rank lowest on the intelligence scale (not compared to humans, but simply intelligent qua intelligent)?
posted by tzikeh to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have heard (from people who keep horses and cows) that the reason horse corrals are round is because horses don't understand corners. Evidently they hug the perimeter while they're left to their own devices, and when they get to a 90 degree angle they just stop. If it's a continuous round pen, they can follow the edge forever. Cows have no such problem.

My roommate has an afghan hound. I don't know if she's dumb so much as she just doesn't care at all what anyone says to her. Though she does seem to have a lot of trouble figuring out how to walk around objects in her path.
posted by phunniemee at 9:38 AM on October 27, 2010


Can you define animal? Are we talking fauna in general? Bugs? Worms? Because there are different measures of intelligence and different types of intelligence among animals, I think you'd have to limit the tests by species.

I've read about the tests used to determine that afghan hounds are the dumbest dogs. Apparently, one of the measurements is how long it takes a dog to escape from a blanket when it's fully covering them.

Anecdotally, a farmworker told me ostriches were the dumbest animals he'd ever encountered.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:41 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Probably some kind of sponge or coral. Or are you thinking only of large-mammals / birds?
posted by signal at 9:43 AM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing that by animal you mean "birds or mammals"? Like, not little bugs or something? If that's the case, maybe opossums? They are easily tricked.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:46 AM on October 27, 2010


Oh - yes, sorry - mammals, birds, and the like. Though, out of curiosity, how would anyone measure the intelligence of an earthworm?
posted by tzikeh at 9:49 AM on October 27, 2010


I think it's dangerous to confuse visual acuity with intelligence. It's difficult enough to find a valid and sensible measure of intelligence in humans, let alone in other animals.
posted by multiphrenic at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually, it's a bit misleading to ask about dumb animals. All animals are extremely "smart" in the environment they adapted to survive in--otherwise they'd go extinct. And all animals are dumb outside that environment. To quote this book I just found on google: "Put a group of ten young, health and intelligent Norwegians into the Rain Forest. They are probably going to die."

So what animals are dumb? My guess would be some domesticated farm animals. They're not bred to survive in the wild, they're not bred like dogs to respond to human emotions, so they're much more likely to be dumb. Some are smart anyways, apparently (pigs), but there's no reason they have to be.
posted by _Silky_ at 9:57 AM on October 27, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think this is a meaningless metric. You think you're smarter than, say, a dog. Sure, the dog can't grasp long division, but can you smell that tree and tell me the gender, size, number, and timeline (and who knows what else) of other dogs who have been there? No? Idiot!

Other animals don't give a shit about James Joyce or math, or mirrors, or cause-and-effect. They don't need to. So, your question is really (it seems to me) what animals are mentally least like humans. Polyps or something is a good guess. Krill?
posted by cmoj at 9:58 AM on October 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


lunalaguna - any links for those tests you can share?
posted by handful of rain at 9:58 AM on October 27, 2010


^ Good response, tzikeh.

I can only supply anecdata--well, anecdote, not even anecdata. I once heard the brain of a chicken described as "a wide spot in the road"-- i.e., a nerve that just gets a little bigger where it passes through their head.
posted by scratch at 10:05 AM on October 27, 2010


_Silky_ might be on to something about survival skills as a measure of (relative?) animal intelligence, and domesticated animals' lack thereof. The CFA's breed profile of the Burmese cat suggests that they're not too suited to independence:
Burmese should never be let outdoors as they are entirely too trusting and have little, if any, survival instinct. Their idea of survival is to turn their soulful eyes on you to attend to all their needs. This does not work for catching food, fighting off enemies or avoiding cars.
On the other hand, the profile also mentions they can learn to play fetch.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:15 AM on October 27, 2010


As a rule, domesticated animals are generally dumber than their wild cousins. They have less need to use their brains to, e.g., find food, protect themselves, etc.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:19 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have heard (from people who keep horses and cows) that the reason horse corrals are round is because horses don't understand corners.

Huh? I have horses and have square pastures, have always used square arenas, etc. Now, if an aggressive horse can trap another in a corner, you've got a problem, so having round fencing is overall safer. But is not required.

No, my horses never hug the perimeter as a matter of course, and they range from very clever to downright dumb. What the heck?
posted by galadriel at 10:34 AM on October 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


scratch, chickens get along just fine without their brains, or even heads, apparently.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:47 AM on October 27, 2010


@handful of rain - On second thought, I don't think I read it. I think it was a part of NOVA's "Dogs" special.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:58 AM on October 27, 2010


My roommate has an afghan hound. I don't know if she's dumb so much as she just doesn't care at all what anyone says to her. Though she does seem to have a lot of trouble figuring out how to walk around objects in her path.

I've got a roommate like that, too.

I think most of what we perceive as "dumb" animal behaviour is more a lack or restriction of certain senses combined with how quickly humans developed: birds being unable to find the door they came in through, flying into glass, etc. Small mammals not sitting still so we can help them out of that fencing wire. Children, the elderly and disabled people are similarly disadvantaged because the built world is built mostly for able bodied 18-40 year olds. Anyone else is "dumb" in that environment. Same goes for me in a river or forest. So you'd have to get the absolute intelligence metric out of the environment. Which means not measuring anything at all.
posted by doublehappy at 11:45 AM on October 27, 2010


is there a set of cognitive measurements that can determine which few animals might rank lowest on the intelligence scale (not compared to humans, but simply intelligent qua intelligent)?

No. This doesn't even work for people. You can't really compare the intelligence of people with different kinds of skills or different mental deficits that way. Are poets smarter than engineers? Is Down's Syndrome worse than Asperger's?

Are bats smart? They can "see" sounds and form mental images of the world around they based on that. There a whole perceptual realm available to them that we can't imagine, and there's a lot of nifty cognitive processing that goes into that. Does that mean they're smarter than dogs. Wait a minute, dogs are social animals, they can read other animals emotional states.

It's worth quoting Alfred Binet, who, with Theodore Simon, developed the first intelligence test: "Intellectual qualities cannot be measured like lengths; they are not superimposable."
posted by nangar at 12:19 PM on October 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Turkeys, despite the myth of dying when they look up during a rainstorm, are still supremely stupid animals. I lived on a turkey farm for quite a while and they are still, none too adaptable to their surroundings.

Also, see this http://ask.metafilter.com/31464/How-do-you-measure-intelligence-across-species
posted by Sophie1 at 12:26 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the subject of turkeys being stupid, TAL's first Poultry Slam includes a story about growing up on a turkey farm.
posted by kdar at 12:58 PM on October 27, 2010


What nangar said. It's more about an assortment of different, apples-to-oranges aptitudes and skills to fill very, very different niches. Octopi are a hell of a lot smarter than us in some ways, birds too, etc., etc., and very unskilled in others. It is not a useful way to think about things really, this notion of linear intelligence where certain strengths get awarded more points arbitrarily/subjectively (and egocentrically/piggishly, often, I might add). Someone put it really well once a while back in a Mefi thread...something like "the bacteria in your toilet doesn't give a crap about your thoughts on art, either."
posted by ifjuly at 1:28 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


This doesn't really relate to stupidity, but because of the turkey comment you opened your question with, and because it's so lovely, I have to post this article about a new species of monkey recently discovered in Burma, which has the considerable design fault of an upturned nose:

"Evidence from hunters also suggested that the monkeys were particularly easy to find in the rain. The monkeys allegedly sneeze audibly when rainwater gets in their noses and local people said they could be found with their heads tucked between their knees on rainy days."
posted by penguin pie at 2:02 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


You should watch the BBC series "Planet Earth" and understand how amazing different niches of life have adapted to their environments.
posted by effluvia at 2:58 PM on October 27, 2010


Ptarmagin are the dumbest animals on the planet. They may not even be animals, I'm not sure. If you disagree with me you've just not spent enough time around them. Ostrichs are the second stupidest plus they are huge and vicious. Third are spruce hens. They may actually not have brains.

Lest you begin to think birds are as a rule less intelligent I remind you of parrots and ravens who are smarter than anyone voting for a tea party candidate Tuesday.
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2010


The Cnidaria, of course. Jellyfish, anemones, corals--all gut, no brains (okay, maybe a neural net). This is not to say that they don't play a sophisticated role in the ecosystem, though.
posted by polymodus at 9:35 PM on October 27, 2010


Sure, the dog can't grasp long division, but can you smell that tree and tell me the gender, size, number, and timeline (and who knows what else) of other dogs who have been there? No? Idiot!

Octopi are a hell of a lot smarter than us in some ways, birds too, etc., etc., and very unskilled in others.

Are bats smart? They can "see" sounds and form mental images of the world around they based on that. There a whole perceptual realm available to them that we can't imagine,


No. This question may be unanswerable, but not beacuse of this faulty reasoning. "Skills" such as different perceptive abilites are not intelligence. Dogs having a better sense of smell is just that; it is not an example of one "area" of intelligence which they surpass us. This is akin to saying blind humans are not as intelligent as those with sight because they lack a "visual intelligence". It's hard to define intelligence- raw calculation power? capacity for abstract thought? creative problem solving?- but sense of smell and the like can be excluded from the definition.
posted by spaltavian at 9:48 AM on October 28, 2010


Human beings, apparently.
posted by luke1249 at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2010


The sponge is (usually) considered the base of the animal tree but really anything in the animal kingdom with no brain is probably tied for first.
posted by Bonzai at 9:01 PM on October 29, 2010


« Older How can I access "pro gui...   |  What kind of PC should *I* get... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.