Which Animal Has The Largest Brain?

Largest Brain = Most Intelligent?

Which animal has the largest brain? And you know it got me thinking - so that's a good start, my brain, the human brain uses reason, calculation, perception, speech, sound, taste, touch and sight to understand things.

We are considered a pretty intelligent species aren't we?

But then we would think that since the whales, ants and dolphins are not capable of writing a thesis to dispel that belief.

After all, don't whales have the biggest brains?

So this article considers the creatures, animals, mammals, birds and 'pods' to find out which animal has the largest brain and whether there is a correlation between brain size and intelligence or perceived intelligence in those creatures.

Sperm Whale From Above -By Cianc [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sperm Whale From Above -By Cianc [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

We All Came Out of The Sea, Right?

If you believe the Primordial Soup Theory, then we all started as 'life' in Earth's giant ocean.

So how do creatures from the sea feature in brain size terms?

Most people think the Blue Whale has the largest brain of all living things; in fact it is the sperm whale who is top of the league.

The Sperm Whale brain weighs about 17.5 pounds, so it outweighs the Blue Whale by 5 pounds.

However, the density of the sperm whale's enormous brain does not compare with that of dolphins.

Brain size in sea mammals has been studied over the decades and there is a measure for density known as encephalization quotient. The brain mass, it has been hypothesised determines how intelligent a creature might become, but this could never be proved.

However, sperm whales do communicate through clicking so they understand 'language' and they have innate patterns of behaviour which suggests levels of inbred intelligence.

However, the male of the species also regularly beach themselves in shallow bays and on beaches.

When examined, these beached sperm whales are often discovered to be mature males.

Mature sperm whales become quite solitary as they get older and this beaching behaviour suggests shared intelligence or instinct - mass suicide?

One theory has it that they are affected by destructive sonar noise from marine equipment and get the equivalent of the bends, making them flee or panic but we can never know the answer.

Dolphins and Killer Whales

Dolphins are considered to be one of the most intelligent creatures and their brain size is about 4 pounds.

When one looks at brain to body ratio, dolphins are just behind man and are considered the second most intelligent creature on earth.

Dolphins' extremely intelligent behaviour is thought to be a direct result of evolution.

Marine biologist, Lori Marino of Emory University has studied MRI scans of dolphins and determined from her findings that creatures evolve in accordance with their needs - e.g. a spider is as intelligent as it needs to be to survive, as is a rat.

The dolphin has developed in much the same way, learning that they needed to communicate more, they honed their communication skills.

Dolphins are very social creatures, interaction with other dolphins (and also humans) is something that they seem to enjoy (source - DiscoveryNews.com).

We have all seen amazing dolphin shows over the years and we are still awe struck by their funny little personalities or at least that's what it seems.

We need to remember killer whales are part of the same species as dolphins which might explain their own ability to do tricks and appear in marine shows, they are also very social creatures.

A killer whale's brain is not quite as heavy as a sperm whale's but its enchephilization quotient is denser, suggesting it is more intelligent.

A killer whale recently killed a trainer at Seaworld and nobody could understand its behaviour but as humans, we can only ever guess at what goes on in a killer whale's head - clever as dolphins but not called 'killer' whales for nothing, instincts are always present even when they are splashing teenagers at Seaworld with their big tails.

Blue Ringed Octopus
Blue Ringed Octopus | Source

The Octopus

The Octopus, on the face of it, may seem an unassuming little marine creature but don't be fooled; this invertebrate is perhaps the most intelligent of all of the marine creatures, the octopus has the largest neurons (brain cells) in all of nature.

Consider this - a male octopus dies roughly six months after mating (always!) and the female usually dies a month or so after caring for their unhatched eggs - they actually don't eat during this care period, eventually by the time the eggs hatch, they die of starvation.

Consequently, baby octopuses learn nothing from their parents; they learn as they go, using sense and innate intelligence to survive. They are supreme defenders of themselves - squirting ink and also venom at predators.

In tests by marine biologists using mazes, octopuses learned how to get out of a maze and showed high levels of intelligence in all tests.

Oh and one of them predicted results in the World Cup Soccer a few years ago and got it right every time.

They might not have the largest brain but it works hard and they are undoubtedly intelligent.

Chimpanzee | Source

Brain Size of Mammals, Primates and Other Land Based Creatures

Human beings brains weigh 2.7 pounds and our closest 'relative' on earth, the primate has a brain size of similar brain to body size.

The gorilla's brain is 0.95 of a pound in weight, whilst a chimpanzee's brain weighs in at 0.77 pounds. The smallest primate brain is that of the Mouse Lemur at 0.004 of a pound.

Primates have been studied for many years, often because of their obvious likeness to human beings and they show many signs of congitive ability - they hunt together, creat strategies for doing so which are shared. They are highly social creatures and communicate with one another effectively.

Tests done with chimpanzees show they can learn human language meaning and respond to it and have also shown some intelligence with symbols and numerical values. So over the years we have enjoyed seeing them in movies using facial expressions and making odd little noises, all apparently typical behaviour in the wild too.

Baby elephant
Baby elephant | Source


The elephant, not surprisingly, has the largest brain of land-based mammals.

Elephants are thought to be intelligent creatures - recently an elephant was shown creating walter colour paintings at a zoo!

Elephants display grief and of course for many years, they worked in circuses.

They are also very social animals and are able to work together to move around for food, create societies, raise their children together and support and provide for one another.

'elephant' shrew
'elephant' shrew | Source

The Shrew - Small But Perfectly Formed

The shrew, the small spiky toothed mole-like creature is unusual in the animal kingdom for having the greatest brain to body mass ratio - their brains represent 10% of their body size, this is greater even than human beings.

Shrews don't appear to have any super intelligence features. Unlike the other animals and mammals discussed in this article, they are not social creatures - they live and hunt alone.

They communicate by using echolocation, using a series of squeaks to discover something about their surroundings. They squeak at a certain pitch and intensity and the returning echoes of their squeaking tell them where they are in terms of relief of the land, hard or soft surfaces etc.

So the shrew, whilst appearing to have the brain size to suggest a hidden genius doesn't seem to demonstrate any intelligent behaviour outside of the norm. That said, whilst scientists have studied shews' bodies, blood and cells (and very useful they are too, revealing possible supports to treat ovarian cancer), their brains have not been studied to any great degree.

Alfie, a Yorkie-Poo
Alfie, a Yorkie-Poo

Does your dog still sometimes display its 'wild' side?

See results without voting

Domestic Animals

So what about our dogs and cats?

Dogs' closest wild equivalent the wolf has a brain typically 30% bigger than a dog (based on a dog of a similar size to a wolf). Anyone who owns a dog can tell you that they are intelligent creatures. They can be trained to do a great many things; maybe sitting when you tell them to "sit" or playing dead, much to the delight of visiting guests.

But let's remember they can also be trained to sniff out narcotics and were used extensively in world war one as messengers. They can herd sheep and hunt for small animals like rabbits. They have been used for a long time as guide dogs and more recently as 'hearing' dogs for the hearing impaired.

They truly have become man's best friend!

Dogs were thought to have been domesticated over 15,000 years ago. As puppies, they learn some behaviour from their parents but when they come into contact with human beings, they learn from humans. People will have heard of Pavlov's Dog - an experiment to show that humans could control the behaviour of an animal by using classical conditioning.

So dogs can learn behaviour from a variety of sources and they can also remember things very easily - don't their tails wag like crazy when they see you? Don't they know where their harness or lead is kept for walks? And they always seem to know when it is dinner time.

Grey wolf
Grey wolf | Source

Pack Animals - Wolves

Wolves can also learn behaviour from their parents when they are born. They are very social creatures but have a hierarchy so that they know where they fit into their pack and what behaviour is acceptable for their place in this hierarchy.

Wolves are most famous for being excellent hunters and they hunt strategically, positioning themselves in certain patterns, undertaking certain movements and deliberately identifying the weakest prey in their sights. Wolves use their allegiances with one another to strengthen the pack.

They have been seen to try and open gates so seem to have some mechanical skills, an unusual trait in hunting animals.

Whether wolves can ever be tamed remains a mystery. Some people have taken them in from being pups, usually as a result of rescue and have claimed to have 'potty' trained them etc but no one would argue that dogs and wolves are different beasts.

Kitten | Source
Snow Leopard 'kitten'
Snow Leopard 'kitten' | Source

Does your cat display its wilder side?

  • 67% Yes, I am tired of disposing of mouse and bird 'offerings'
  • 33% No, 100% pussycat!
3 people have voted in this poll.

This poll is now closed to voting.

Cats - Wild and Otherwise

Domesticated cats probably show more of their evolutionary sources than domesticated dogs.

A domesticated cat has a brain weight of 0.006 of a pound, almost 24% lighter than that of a wildcat. In scientific test on the brains of domestic cats, they were considered to be of low intellect but it has been determined over time that domesticated cats actually learn behaviour in a domesticated setting; they also show signs of memory retention.

However, they also love to hunt, to scavenge and are nocturnal creatures by habit.

The wildcat is famed for its hunting and scavenging and like a cat, has lightning speed and is a nocturnal creature too.

The domesticated cat, it seems, has kept some of its genetic blueprint from its wild cousin.

Tigers have the largest brains of the felines, but they live in an environment which requires cunning, bravery, speed and so on so is there a correlation between brain size and the environment ?

I think it is difficult to disprove this - we all evolve because of our surroundings - to enable us to survive; it is no different for animals, mammals, encephalopods, rodents etc, etc.

So does brain size matter? The answer seems to be "Yes, sometimes".

There is no evidence across the board for every creature to suggest that it is always the case

. Researchers will continue to discover new and amazing things about the intelligence of us and the creatures with whom we share the earth and oceans.

More by this Author

Which Animal Has The Largest Brain Comments 54 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jaye, many thanks for your comment. I will try to track down the online article though reading these often makes me weep.

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

The intelligence of many animals has been proven in scientific studies, including birds (the gray parrot, in particular, is extremely intelligent with a small sized brain).

The section you wrote about elephants and the fact about the elephant painting a watercolor is bittersweet to me. I recently read an article in the October issue of National Geographic about the tens of thousands of African elephants killed each year simply for the ivory of their tusks, many used to carve religious icons. This happens in spite of a global ban on selling ivory and is condoned by many religions, including the Vatican. The investigative article is "Blood Ivory", written by Bryan Christy, and you cannot read it without being moved to tears. It can be found online if you don't have the magazine.

Excellent article. Voted Up++


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Keith, many thanks for the visit, votes and share - much appreciated!

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KDuBarry03 4 years ago

I've always been a fan of wolves and their prowess of intelligence of hunting. I'm not surprised to see that density correlates to intelligence, but still learned many things from this. Very interesting, Jools! Def voted up and shared!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, many thanks for your comment and votes etc. I shall seek out your chicken hub later.

mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

This was a good question, and your answer was excellent. Great Hub. I am amazed at the intelligence of a chicken. They make good pets (I wrote a Hub about that). They have tiny brains, but they are very smart. I voted this Hub UP, etc.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

coffeeginmyrice, many thanks for your comment - your story about the sea turtle is very sad. I think your dad done the right thing to get you out of the way.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Michelle, many thanks for the comment. This is one of my favourite hubs - I loved researching and writing it.

coffeegginmyrice profile image

coffeegginmyrice 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

Amazing! Though I have a dog, the chimpanzee is a still a dream creature I want to have and love too. The pigs are pretty smart too! Useful and interesting work here, Jools!

p.s. I have witnessed a huge sea turtle cried tied underneath a table in the island's market, my pa's hometown. The fisherman/vendor holding a bolo or machete was coming towards the turtle to prepare him for soup into a boiling cauldron nearby. I looked at the turtle with sadness in my heart and saw tears rolling down his eyes and wished I could untie and save him that instant. My pa took my hand and guided me away from the turtle so I won't see it killed. Then he said, "Turtles do cry." (He had seen it before.)

And to Kris Heeter, I am feeling sympathy to the elephants. You have witnessed them mourn, what a memorable experience for you.

midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

I am going to find myself a killer whale this weekend to and ask him a couple of questions too. Thanks for the riveting information, Jools!!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Kris, thanks for your great comment - wow, what an experience. You will probably never, ever see this again in your lifetime. I am always awe-inspired by some of the amazing things we see in nature. This would definitely inspire awe (and also some sadness I dare say).

Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Great hub! While visiting by brother in Africa, I had the rare opportunity to witness a small herd of elephants in mourning. They had traveled back to a spot where a family member had died and they had a very vocal and ritualistic-like mourning ceremony over the remains. To this day, it is one of my most incredible memories from that safari.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

James - many thanks. I did this hub due to a question but really enjoyed all of the research and all the new things I learnt along the way. And yes, evolution is amazing isn't it.

Mohan - I'm sure your big head is only that way to accommodate your enormous brain :o) Thanks for your comment.

JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Interesting Hub Jools, I genuinely didn't know that the humble shrew has a greater brain to body size ratio than ours. Apparently we were also beaten by the Neanderthals, funny how they became extinct despite having larger brains than ours. Voted up etc.

Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Wonderfully presented scientific discourse Julie, well written, clearly explained and fascinating scientific insight. really enjoyed this. Now let me go weigh my head. Voted up, of course!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Linda, I know! This was a surprise to me too. And yes, the evidence is sometimes 'yeah that makes sense' and at other times has you baffled but that's why nature is so fascinating.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Dana, thanks for your comment - but plain old 'EQ' will do...less typing :o)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

India, many thanks for your comment - I love dolphins. I once went to a dolphin park in Miami and the dolphin was throwing toys out of the water at us before the show started - it was in its tank and it just wanted to play :o)

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

How interesting that a Dolphin is next in line behind humans in intelligence. Yet, I will never look at a shrew or an octopus the same way again! Outstanding article on the size of the brain many creatures are packing around. Thanks Jools!


DanaTeresa profile image

DanaTeresa 4 years ago from Ohio

LOL! I just saw Bob's comment. He is right about the "moron" part for sure. Just watch reality TV! :)

DanaTeresa profile image

DanaTeresa 4 years ago from Ohio

Oh this is great! So fun to read and it flows so nicely! You did a wonderful job highlighting some very interesting facts. I am so amazed by the teeny tinit-ness of the mouse lemurs brain. such a tiny brain doing so much!

encephalization quotient --- one of my new favorite terms! thanks!

Enjoyed this very much! voting up and more.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Way to go Jools. The Sperm Whale? Never would have guessed. I did know about the dolphins. So in a nutshell size doesn't really matter. In a way. :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

John, I'm with you -evolution based on need and those dragonflies seem to have it sussed in spite of occasionally crashing into us lot :o)

John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

Excellent Jools. I'm a believer in the 'devolve in accordance with their needs' theory. I was sitting last night watching the dragonflies in the garden - now there's an insect with a small brain. They move faster than a blink.

For all we know, they could have their own civilisations. As they evolved they wouldn't need to invent cars or planes - they've already got all they need. All they need to do is stay well hidden from the slow moving bipeds that lumber about in their way.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Cyndi, many thanks for your comment - there will always be more to discover, and then I will write another hub.....:o)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Remaniki, many thanks for the comment and the share, much appreciated.

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

What a great hub, Julie! I enjoyed the read very much. I'm with that marine biologist - I think a lot of animals evolved intelligence as much as they needed to and it's hard to equate our intelligence with dolphins because we don't exist in an aquatic environment and would be hard-pressed to do so. But the fact that they have language! Wow! Our brains have certainly helped us navigate our environment; let's just hope we don't get ourselves in too much trouble what with throwing the planet off balance and all. Ha ha. In any case, great depth and breadth of thought here. Votes and shares for sure!

remaniki profile image

remaniki 4 years ago from Chennai, India

Fantastic hub Jools. So very informative. Got to know new things here. Thanks a lot for sharing. I am sharing this hub for my friends to see. Cheers, Rema

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

fpgerj48, Alfie is my sister's dog but I take him for walks and he's my pal. This hub came out of me having writer's block and I went to the Answers section in the hope of finding a question I wanted to answer, phew!

Many thanks (again) for your kind comment and for dropping by to read, I appreciate it :o)

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Jools99, this is absolutely a joy and an education all in one fine hub. My quest to learn NEW things everyday goes on and on! Thank you.....LOVE some of these pictures.....the kitty, (I have 2 felines) and "Alfie is adorable (2 canines also!)...but I especially like the confused-looking monkey....reminds me of myself when wracking my poor brain (WHATEVER SIZE IT IS !!) VERY GOOD, JOOLS! up+++

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Olde Cashmere, many thanks for the comment and share, much appreciated :o)

Olde Cashmere profile image

Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

I love how you went over a wide selection of animals in this hub. Fascinating material Jools99. Voted up, shared, interesting, awesome, and beautiful :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Victoria, many thanks for reading and the share. Presumably, calling a woman a shrew in Elizabethan times must have referred to this clever little rat-like creature. I'm glad it's gone out of general use as an insult - but prefer it to some newer insults :o)

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Very interesting! I never knew what a shrew was except for Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." LOL. OH, the photo of that octopus looks scary! I enjoyed this hub. So interesting! Sharing!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Barbara, many thanks for your comment. I want the octopus' skill of predicting the results of sports games - I could make a killing :o)

b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

Hi Jools, I just loved reading your most Interesting Hub on Brain size, It truly is Fascinating. Be it Animal or people... I now feel very Knowledgeable on this Subject. We see so many Wonderful examples, everyday, all around us of smart Animals, and Sometimes NOT so Smart People!

I now look forward to Following your Hubs.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Nell, do you ever go to bed at a reasonable hour :o) Many thanks for your comment. I had to bring this hub to a close when I wanted it to go on and on. The more research I did, the more interested I got in the idea of survival of the fittest and I found many examples of what you describe - creatures/people/marine mammals have a lot of innate behaviour but some have to learn so much and this is where intelligence comes into play.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

This was fascinating! I always remember seeing on tv, two birds, one that was born in a 'hot, food' climate, and the other in a 'cold foodless' place. they put them together to see which one would know how to get the lid of a pot of food, the cold climate bird knew, but the hot climate one had no idea. This proved what you said above about it all depends on what they learn or need to know. I remember when they found the homo floresiensis little people, there was a debate about whether they had a certain intelligence or not, in the end scientists thought that they didn't. this, I believe, was stupid, what about tiny people today? especially the primordial dwarf syndrome. They are highly intelligent people, even though they are smaller than the homo floresiensis. Great work jools, loved this! voted up and shared! nell

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Teaches12345, many thanks for your comment.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

harinarayan, many thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Angie, loved the video, very funny. The French dialogue gave it a certain cinematic style and the black cat is a real character isn't he?

harinarayan profile image

harinarayan 4 years ago from Kerala, India

very innteresting jools. Thanks for sharing the interesting facts.

voted up and interested.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

This was an interesting read and I learned much about the size and importance of brains. I think the cat, no matter the size, is a very wise animal! (Just a little biased!).

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Fascinating hub, Jools ... a great theme. As a cat owner I can confirm that they have very good memories. And can definitely be trained ... they are deeper than we know.

I think this YouTube film will tell you more than I ever can ;)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jainismus, many thanks for your comment and the share, I appreciate it.

jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

What a great Hub... Thank you for providing the information. Voted up and shared with followers.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Kelley, thanks so much for commenting.

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kelleyward 4 years ago

What a great idea for a hub Jools! I learned so many new interesting facts here. Voted up and shared! Take care, Kelley

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

William, get writing that hub! I'm sure pet lovers everywhere might be googling that very question.

Many thanks for your comment - and the blue jays and mocking birds sound well worth the watching. I had a crow fighting a magpie in my garden a few months ago. It got ugly but I saw an amazing thing - the crow had lost a long feather in the battle and held it in its beak and carefully reinserted it in its wing - freaked me out a bit.

WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

This is a fun and interesting read. It got me thinking, too. I swear the birds around here are smart. The other day a whole bunch of them (blue jays, and mocking birds) ganged up to run a sharp shinned hawk out of town. The mocking birds were making blue jay sounds, so it sounded like a hundred blue jays. Including the Hawk, they all seemed to display cognitive reasoning.

One question leads to another. Do animals go to heaven?

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Yes, then email me the winning numbers - oh and don't get the one featured here, it can kill humans!

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bob, I could have gone into cerebral cortex etc but then I was dealing with dinosaurs having 2 brains, one the size of a walnut in their heads and another in their spine and I thought to myself -Jools, you ain't a scientist! Keep it simple! The evidence of animal intelligence being defined by brain size is startling in some animals, less so in others where there are all sorts of things to suggest, there is room for further research- maybe I should have answered "Maybe" rather than "Yes"????

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Very interesting! I might get rid of the dog and get an octopus and train it up to predict Lottery numbers ;D

Voted up etc.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Fascinating subject well preented and resourced.

I am going to find an octopus this weekend to help me in my betting jaunts. I am a bit suspicious of brain size and density being the precursor for intelligence, though, there still seems to be something missing.

Look at our cerebral cortex: you didn't mention that, but it isn't exceeded by any other creature yet look what morons we can be!!!

Voted up


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