Monday, June 24, 2024

5 Experiments Proving Invertebrates are Smarter Than We Think

English ethologist, Jonathan Balcombe, someone that studies animal attitude and behaviuor, has published several different books based on animal nature and intelligence. His most recent book is called “Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects”. 

In the book, Balcombe breaks down and tackles our own innate prejudice and dismissal of anything with more than two legs. He goes further to show that many intelligence-based tests used on birds and mammals can also be passed by bugs and cephalopods. 

In an excerpt, Balcombe argues that this fact alone should, at the very least, cause us to revisit our previous assertions on the overall intelligence of insects, and reexamine them more thoroughly. 

Here are several examples showing just how intelligent invertebrates may, in fact, actually be. 


Normally known simply for making honey, Bees have an incredibly complex level of interconnectivity. This is used through their sensory organs as well as their use of pheromones. These pheromones allow bees to move as if by a singular mind. 

And yet, despite this, individual bees have been recorded to note and recognize individual human faces. Similarly, they can determine things that are “the same” as well as things that are “different”, such as shapes and colors. 

One study in particular noted that Honeybees seemed to be aware of their own intelligence as well. In it, bees would actually decide not to engage in difficult tasks if failure meant receiving a bitter-tasting liquid at its end. Researchers concluded that bees would only engage in activities that they themselves knew they could complete successfully. 


Wasps have shown a marketed amount of intelligence. They can distinguish individual members of their colony through marks on their heads and could pick them out of a veritable lineup of doctored wasp images. 

Digger wasps have been shown to use tools, making them factually creatures with a fairly high level of intelligence. When paralyzing their prey, these wasps bury it underground before using flat stones to hide them from other insects. Not only is their innate use of tools to hide their prey impressive, but the fact that they intentionally use flat rocks so that the prey isn’t harmed is even more impressive. 


Ants, more than many other creatures, can note itself in a mirror. Balcombe found that, in Brussels, researchers saw that ants would behave differently if seeing their own faces in a reflection. This was different to how they would act when seeing their colony mates. This is surprisingly right on par with chimpanzees who acted the same. 

When a blue dot was placed on the ant’s forehead, they would attempt to scrub and remove it, often through scrubbing or wiping with one of their legs. This was a far cry from what happened if the dot was placed on the back of an ant’s head or if the ant didn’t have a mirror to look into. 


Growing in attention and popularity, an octopus has shown itself to be quite intelligent. They can open child-proof locks, untie knots, and even have been shown to have unique personalities among one another. 


Finally, spiders have been shown to be incredibly intelligent, particularly that of jumping spiders. This species understood things like object permanence, and would note that any prey that hid behind a rock was still there, rather than have disappeared. 

In his book, Balcombe argues that, as more information mounts, we will need to begin seriously considering just how intelligent these creatures really are. He ends off by quoting Jane Goodall’s professor in relation to chimps. 

“Now we must redefine tool, man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

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