As humans, we value intelligence perhaps above all other traits. But for some animals, intelligence isn’t much of a virtue at all. In fact, some animals have perfectly adapted to their environments by getting, believe it or not, stupider. Here are some of the best examples of stupidity winning out in the animal kingdom.
A year or so ago, I did a video on the world’s smartest animals, where I talked about how some animals like corvids and octopuses show a level of intelligence that’s… weirdly human.
Like when a crow dies, it’s group will often come together and “investigate” what happened. Like a corvid CSI or something.
Looks like this case… is for the birds.
Because in our minds, as humans, intelligence is a virtue. Maybe the highest of all virtues. We rank an animal’s importance by how smart they are. How much they’re like… us.
It’s a little narcissistic when you think about it.
Because intelligence is just an evolutionary adaptation, just like all animal traits. You wouldn’t look down on one bird because it’s a different color than other birds. But when it comes to intelligence, we do exactly that.
So for some animals, their environments, the predators that hunted them, or the prey they hunted meant that nature selected for intelligence, and they got smarter.
But for some animals… The opposite is true. Intelligence played little to no part in their survival. In fact, for some, a bigger, more energy-intensive brain would just take resources away from other parts of the body that really needed it.
So let’s flip the script. Instead of showering the A students with glory, let’s give some love to the… let’s say “underachievers.” That feels safe to say.
So first of all, I guess we need to define exactly what we mean when we say an animal is dumb. I mean, we’re looking at this through human eyes.
It’s not necessarily brain size.
I mean, a wasp has a brain about the size of a ball in a ball point pen, but it’s still smart enough to chase me around in my yard and cut off my routes to the back door, leaving me stranded in my yard for hours… …hate wasps
Or, look at the jellyfish, they don’t have a brain at all. Do “smart” and “dumb” even apply to them?
You could apply the word “dumb” to mean animals with weird or useless body parts like the T-Rex and its stupid little arms.
There’s a lot of cases of weird anatomy that aren’t necessarily “dumb” Like great gray owls are born with clawlike structures at the wrist of their wings that have no use whatsoever.
Some animals might be considered dumb because they can only survive in one very specific environment.
Congratulations, dummy! You’re the apex predator of a tiny cave!
Sadly many of these animals are dying out because that one very specific niche that they’ve filled is now changing because of human encroachment or a changing climate, and they’ve evolved so specifically that they can’t figure out how to continue their species when it changes.
Sad, but still. Dumb.
The point is, there’s a lot of different metrics we can use to define what’s a “dumb” animal so the ones on this list aren’t really apples to apples comparisons.
Regardless, these keep making list after list for being the dumbest of the dumb. So here we go.
Let’s start with kākāpōs, which are nocturnal flightless parrots found in New Zealand. And they’re adorable! Thing is, they evolved in a place with no predators and plenty of food.
So, they didn’t develop any kind of defense strategy.
When you scare a kākāpō, it will hold completely still or climb up a tree and jump out. But it can’t fly, so it just falls to the ground.
They were abundant in New Zealand before humans arrived. Kākāpō numbers decreased over time because the animals that humans brought with them were able to catch the birds easily and eat them.
Cats. I’m talking about cats.
Kākāpōs aren’t the only animal that can hold themselves completely still. Sloths can, too,
Are they cute? Yes. Does Kristen Bell have an unhealthy fascination with them? Yes. Are they dumb? Very.
Sloths are found in tropical rainforests, where they spend between eight and 10 hours a day sleeping in trees.
About once every eight days, they make their way to the ground to defecate.
And then when a sloth crawls back up the tree, it sometimes slips, falls to the ground, and dies.
They also move slowly, with top speeds of 1.8 to 2.4 meters (six to eight feet) per minute.
Just for reference, that’s four times slower than a tortoise.
You know how you always wind up behind some 90 year old guy going 20 on the interstate? That’s a sloth.
They are so slow and lazy that one of the seven deadly sins is named after them.
That’s a good movie for the kids, All Sloths Go To Hell.
They move so slowly, in fact, that algae and fungus collects in their fur.
But this growth and slowness are actually helpful.
The sloth’s main predator is the harpy eagle, which no sloth could ever outrun. So, its algae camouflage and stillness help make itself almost invisible to predators.
Which is kiiinda smart? They’re so dumb, they’re smart.
Speaking of lazy animals, let’s talk about pandas.
Like, pandas kinda became the face of the conservation movement because they’re endangered and they’re cute, but they’re a terrible symbol because they are SO DUMB.
Pandas are the worst. There, I said it. This is the segment that’s going to piss everybody off but I don’t care. Can we please be done with these ridiculous animals?
First of all, I don’t think they even want to exist. Have you ever noticed that it is global news every time a panda cub is born? That’s how little interest they have in continuing as a species.
Pandas adapted to just barely get by in one very unique place in the world, and when that place changed, they were like, “eh, I guess I’ll die.”
(the old man meme with a panda head)
I mean, let’s be honest, the only reason they’re still around is because they’re cute. If they weren’t cute, we would have let them go a long time ago.
Need more convincing? Okay, they’re not smart enough to keep their own kids alive. Seriously.
It’s very common when pandas have twins, they’ll basically just pick one and let the other one die.
And the one they keep, they’re prone to sitting on it or rolling over onto it or just forgetting they have a kid and letting it starve.
That’s why when a new cub is born in captivity, the caretakers take it away immediately because it’s actually less safe with the mother than anywhere else.
Oh, and they eat bamboo. I’m sorry, I said that wrong. They ONLY eat bamboo.
And you know what, as carnivores, they’re not designed to digest? Bamboo.
“They’re not supposed to eat bamboo. Their bodies are not adapted to digest cellulose, but they hang in there with the bamboo. But the result of that is that they have to eat a ton of bamboo. They don’t have a lot of energy to do things, like to mate. That could be Nature kind of hinting around the fact that they should collectively shuffle off this mortal coil.”
Do you have any idea the extreme efforts that zookeepers and conservationists have to go through to get these animals to perform the simple act of mating?
We could be on Mars right now if we weren’t spending so much time just trying to get these two bears to f*ck each other.
They’re not that cute. Moving on.
Everybody loves turkeys, especially around Thanksgiving. They are delicious. But they are not smart.
Get this. One of its dumb behaviors is that it’ll stare up at the sky with its mouth open while it’s raining.
Sometimes they’ll stare for up to 30 minutes. And if they start to drown, they still won’t stop staring!
Okay, the drowning thing is more of a myth. The reason they stare up at the rain is because of an inherited genetic condition called tetanic torticollar spasms.
They’re the opposite of pandas basically.
But maybe dumb turkeys are our fault. As Lentz wrote on the Animal Review blog:
“In short, the turkey has gotten a bum rap, most of it due to people’s decision to domesticate a great number of them. These soft, sad birds are like obese teenagers who look lazy, shiftless, and weak – but the truth is that the fault lies with us. We gave them too many calories and stopped expecting them to toughen up or exercise – and then mock the result, when we really are just angry with ourselves.”
Another bird that is considered a few beers short of a six-pack is the ostrich.
Ostriches can grow up to 2.7 meters (9 feet) tall and weigh up to 136 kilograms (300 pounds). And it’s a fast bird, achieving a sustained speed of 65 kilometers per hour (40 mph).
That is 533 times faster than a sloth.
Those slender legs that help it run fast are also weapons. A powerful kick from an ostrich can knock down huge attackers like lions.
Not to mention the big giant velociraptor claw at the end of their feet.
And yet, despite being one of the fastest animals in the world and despite having (points to pic of claw) THAT… Their main defensive move when they get attacked is to just lay down.
It’s a misconception that ostriches bury their heads in the sand, but they do put their heads on the ground and close their eyes. And it’s thought that they do that because they think it makes them invisible.
Yes, that invisible nine foot tall bird.
If that theory is true, I guess that means that they never develop object permanence? Something human babies develop at about 8 months.
I guess they think that if they can’t see anything, then nobody can see them. I don’t know, but that’s pretty dumb.
Makes me think of the guy in Mystery Men who could turn invisible – but only when nobody was looking at him.
These lemmings attack other animals that are much larger than them. And their only weapon is their teeth, making for close combat.
You may think they’re stupid because they commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs. But that’s a myth created by Disney.
Yeah, you heard that right. Disney is responsible for the deaths of many lemmings.
In a 1958 documentary called White Wilderness, the filmmakers captured dozens of lemmings and used Disney “magic” to make it seem like many more.
They then chased them off a cliff.
It’s true that lemmings sometimes fall off cliffs and drown during their migration season, but not all together.
But unfortunately, the Disney myth still persists.
All these animals are stupid in their own ways, especially compared to the superb human intellect.
But one can only stand in awe at the king of dumb in the animal kingdom… It’s the koala.
Look the Koala is cute. That’s nice. But it literally has the lowest brain-to-body mass ratio of any mammal in the world.
And this is actually a survival tactic because much like the pandas, their diet consists of one item. An item with very low caloric value.
The Australian mammalogist Tim Flannery had this to say about their brains:
“Its hemispheres sit like a pair of shriveled walnut halves on top of the brain stem, in contact neither with each other nor the bones of the skull.”
Here’s another thing about their brains – there’s not a wrinkle in sight.
Most of the processing in the brain is done on the surface, that’s why ours have all these wrinkles and folds in it – it provides more surface area. That’s why calling someone a smooth-brain is an insult.
Koala brains are literally smooth.
They’re so dumb that they only recognize eucalyptus leaves when they’re on the trees. Like if you pluck them off the tree and offer it to them, they won’t eat it. Even if they saw you pick it off the tree.
And since eucalyptus is so low-energy, it’s all about energy conservation with these guys. To that end, they sleep 18 to 20 hours a day. That’s most of the day.
Actually, eucalyptus isn’t just low-calorie, it’s also toxic. So they have to spend extra amount of energy just digesting their food.
Which is actually pretty sad when you think about those Australian wildfires a couple years ago.
Okay, sympathy over. They’re also kinda assholes.
They fight a lot. Especially over territory, and each koala wants a whole tree to themselves.
Although, because of their low energy levels, the fighting is mostly whining and grappling.
And get his. Almost half of Australia’s koalas have chlamydia. It’s a different strain than what humans know, but a koala can transmit it to you if it urinates on you.
Which they’ll do if you walk under their tree. So… don’t.
All right, now that I’ve picked on a bunch of cute, defenseless animals, let’s go back to my premise at the beginning of this, which is… all of these animals are perfectly adapted for where they evolved. Their dumbness isn’t a bug – it’s a feature.
Besides, who are we to judge, look at what we’re doing and the problems we’ve caused. It makes me think of that joke about aliens discovering that we’ve developed nuclear weapons. One alien turns to the other and asks if they should be scared and the other says, “Naw, they’re pointing it at themselves.”
So yeah. Intelligence is relative.