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Which Apes are the Smartest? Top 7 from the Smartest

An orangutan with a huge toothy grin.

Are you curious about how smart apes really are and which ones come out on top as the smartest? Do you want to know what sets them apart from other animals and what their limitations are?

Orangutans, based on their abilities to use tools and adapt to different environments, are considered to be the smartest apes. They have their own sense of culture and are capable of learning new things with little to no instruction.

If you are interested in what other apes have superior intelligence compared to other animals in the wild, keep on reading!

Apes as the Smartest Animals

As humans, we like to think that we are the only species capable of complex thought and reasoning. However, there are other animals in the world that come close to our level of intelligence.

Apes, to be specific, are considered the smartest animals in the world. In addition, most of them have a strong culture and system of communication.

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FUN FACT: We share 96% of our DNA with apes! This is why they are often used in labs for testing since their genetic makeup is so similar to ours.

List of Apes According to Their Level of Intelligence

Now that we know that apes are the smartest animals, which ones come out on top as the smartest of them all? There are different types of apes and each has its own unique abilities.

To give you an idea of how smart they are, we have listed some of them in order from the smartest.

#1. Orangutan

Number one on our list is none other than the orangutan. They have already proven themselves the most intelligent apes many times.

Orangutans are the only non-human primates that are capable of communicating about the past and future. They are also good at using tools, with skills far better than that of a young human child.

Unlike other primates on our list, orangutans have the capability of learning new things just by observing, instead of relying on instructions or instincts. They can also control their laryngeal muscles which suggest the potential of developing language skills in the future.

#2. Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are the most common type of ape that comes to mind whenever we think about apes. They are considered to be our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom.

Like orangutans, chimpanzees also have the ability to:

  • use tools
  • communicate using complex vocalizations
  • solve problems
A mother and baby chimpanzee resting in a tree together face to face.
Chimpanzees are human’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom

FUN FACT: Chimpanzees are territorial animals which means they have a good sense of self-awareness.

#3. Spider Monkey

Known for their incredibly long arms and tails that they use to swing from one tree to another, spider monkeys are one of the most acrobatic animals in the world. They are also good at using their hands and feet to climb trees and grasp things.

In addition, spider monkeys are also considered to be one of the smartest animals due to their high level of social intelligence. They live in troops of up to 50 members and have a strict hierarchy.

Spider monkeys have a good memory and even inspired a computer algorithm based on their intelligence which is called the Spider Monkey Optimization Algorithm.”

#4. Gorilla

Gorillas are one of the most popular apes in the world. From zoos to movies, they have been a favorite among many people, known for looking:

  • big
  • muscly
  • intimidating

Gorillas are also considered to be one of the smartest animals though they are not seen to use tools as much as other apes mentioned above.

However, there are instances where gorillas are seen to use sticks to gauge the depth of a body of water or to get food that is out of their reach. They are also keen on using bamboo as a ladder to help their infants climb up a tree.

A gorilla head and shoulders with warm looking eyes and a serious face, with trees in the background.
Gorillas are one of the world’s most popular apes

FUN FACT: Gorillas are good with communication and have been recorded making 25 different vocalizations to show a range of emotions.

#5. Surili

An uncommon yet smart type of ape is the surili. They are amongst the old-world monkeys and are closely related to baboons and macaques.

Surilis are good climbers and can even hang upside down from tree branches. They like to travel in groups of up to 21 and mostly live in the trees.

With a good sense of security and hierarchical order, surilis are one of the smartest animals in the world.

#6. Macaque

Included in the old-world monkey category, macaques are native to Asia and Africa. They are considered one of the smartest animals due to their:

  • high level of intelligence
  • capability to use tools
  • innovative behaviors

Unlike surilis, macaques spend most of their time on the ground and have the ability to swim. They also like to spend some time in trees but mostly to sleep or rest.

A macaque with light brown and dark brown fur sitting and looking over its shoulder.
Macaques are one of the smartest apes

#7. Mandrill

One of the biggest old-world monkeys, mandrills are easily recognizable due to their colorful and striking faces.

Mandrills are native to west-central Africa and are commonly seen to live in small social units. There are instances where they form hordes of up to hundreds of individuals, but this is mostly during mating season.

Mandrills are known to be good at using tools and use vocalizations and sign language to communicate. Scent marks are also commonly used by mandrills to communicate with other members of their group.

The Bottom Line

These are just some of the most intelligent apes in the world. There are many more out there that are just as smart. A few other monkeys that are also known for their intelligence are:

  • Guenon
  • Mangabey
  • Capuchin

So the next time you see a monkey, remember that it might be smarter than you think.

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