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The 20 Dumbest Animals in the World (Updated for 2024)

Panda bear on a small tree

We’ve heard plenty about the smartest animals on the planet (in fact, we shared an article just this week), but what about the dumbest animals? Are some animals actually dumb or is it just a myth?

Some animals are mistakenly considered dumb when they’re actually quite smart such as the killdeer, which distracts predators from its nest of young by faking a broken wing.

However, unfortunately, others are just not that bright. In this article, I’ll cover the 20 dumbest animals and also share exactly what makes them so dumb.

1. Ostrich

Ostrich in a savannah

Ostrich – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The ostrich, a flightless bird native to Africa, is often considered one of the dumbest animals alive, and for good reason. Its intellectual shortcomings are highlighted in its behavioral patterns and survival strategies.

Ostriches are famously known for their supposed habit of burying their heads in the sand when threatened. While this is a myth, the reality isn’t much better.

When an ostrich senses danger and cannot run away, it flops to the ground and remains still, with its head and neck flat on the ground in a misguided attempt at camouflage.

This strategy, while potentially effective against predators with poor eyesight, is laughably ineffective against most threats.

Also, ostriches have the largest eyes of any land animal, yet their brain is smaller than either of their eyeballs. This means that an ostrich has more space in its skull for eyes than for a brain.

This anatomical feature, while providing the bird with excellent visual acuity, is a telling indicator of its limited cognitive abilities.

Plus, ostriches are not known for their social intelligence. They often engage in aggressive behaviors towards each other for no apparent reason and lack the complex social structures seen in many other bird species.

Their approach to parenting is also questionable, with both males and females taking turns to incubating their eggs, but often leaving the nest unattended.

2. Flamingo

Selective focus of a flamingo

Flamingo – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The flamingo, a bird known for its vibrant pink color and peculiar one-legged stance, is second on our list of the dumbest animals alive.

These birds are famous for their flamboyant display and photogenic posture, but when it comes to intelligence, they fall short in comparison to other avian species.

Flamingos have a very simple and rudimentary thought process. Their brains are primarily wired for basic survival instincts such as feeding, mating, and avoiding predators.

They lack the cognitive abilities for problem-solving, learning from past experiences, or exhibiting complex social behaviors.

Their feeding habits are another clear demonstration of their limited intellect. Flamingos feed on algae and small invertebrates, which they filter out of the water with their beaks.

This feeding style is not only inefficient but also exposes them to various risks. They have to spend a considerable amount of time with their heads submerged in water, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

Also, the flamingo’s distinctive one-legged stance, while visually appealing, does not serve any significant purpose.

Some theories suggest that it helps regulate body temperature or conserve energy, but these hypotheses lack substantial evidence. It appears to be more of a mindless habit than a thought-out strategy.

Flamingos also display a lack of adaptability. They are highly dependent on specific habitats – saline lagoons, or alkalized lakes, and any change in these habitats can cause entire flocks to perish.

3. Panda Bear

Panda bear sleeping on a branch of a tree

Panda Bear – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Panda Bear, a creature adored worldwide for its seemingly innocent and cuddly demeanor, is another contender in our list of the dumbest animals.

Despite their global popularity, these creatures exhibit several behaviors that, from a zoological perspective, are quite perplexingly unintelligent.

One of the most notable characteristics of the pandas is its diet. Pandas are members of the order Carnivora, which includes animals like lions, tigers, and bears. However, in a baffling display of dietary misalignment, pandas have evolved to eat almost exclusively bamboo.

This is despite their digestive system being poorly equipped to extract nutrients from plants. They must consume upwards of 20-30 pounds of bamboo daily just to meet their energy needs, a task that requires them to spend up to 14 hours a day eating.

In addition to their inefficient diet, pandas also exhibit a lack of survival instincts. They have a notably low reproductive rate, largely due to their lack of interest in mating.

Female pandas are only fertile for 2-3 days a year, and even during this brief window, males often show little interest. This lack of reproductive drive is a significant factor in the panda’s status as an endangered species.

Plus, pandas are known for their clumsiness. They frequently fall from trees due to poor balance, a trait that is not only comical to observe but also potentially harmful.

4. Turkey

Turkey on a grassy field

Turkey – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Turkeys, despite their grandeur and festive significance, have often been the butt of jokes for their apparent lack of intelligence. This perception is not entirely baseless. Their behavior often leads them to be ranked among the dumbest animals alive.

Turkeys possess a trait known as “predator imprint”. This means they identify the first thing they see upon hatching as their mother.

This can lead to some rather comical situations, such as a turkey following a human, a dog, or even an inanimate object around, believing it to be its parent. While this behavior may seem charming, it is indicative of a lack of cognitive complexity.

Turkeys also have a bad habit of staring at the sky for extended periods. This behavior, known as “star gazing”, can be so engrossingly intense that turkeys have been known to drown during a rainstorm due to their upturned beaks.

Turkeys are also known for their lack of spatial awareness. They often fly into windows or other solid objects, causing harm to themselves. This lack of awareness and inability to learn from previous mistakes further cements their position as one of the dumbest animals.

5. Jerboa

A jerboa on a tree

Jerboa – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Jerboa, a small rodential creature found predominantly in arid regions of Africa and Asia, is one of the least intellectually gifted members of the animal kingdom.

While it may be adorable with its large ears and kangaroo-like hind legs, it lacks in cognitive prowess.

One of the primary reasons for Jerboa’s nomination in the list of the dumbest animals is its seemingly irrational behavior. For example, when threatened, the Jerboa tends to leap erratically instead of running in a straight line.

This erratic movement, while it can confuse predators, often leads them into more danger rather than away from it.

The Jerboa’s mating rituals also point towards its lack of intelligence. Males often engage in fights with other males to win over females, even though these fights can lead to serious injuries or even death.

This lack of foresight and inability to weigh the potential risks against the benefits of their actions is a clear indication of their limited cognitive abilities.

Also, Jerboas are known to eat their own feces. While this behavior is not uncommon among rodents, it is generally seen as an indication of poor problem-solving skills and a lack of dietary understanding.

6. Goblin Shark

goblin shark

Goblin Shark – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Goblin Shark, scientifically known as Mitsukurina Owston, is a deep-sea creature that, by all accounts, may not be the most intellectually gifted species in the animal kingdom.

This shark species, which is often referred to as a “living fossil,” is characterized by its distinctive, elongated snout and its protrusible jaws filled with nail-like teeth.

Despite its fearsome appearance, the Goblin Shark displays behaviors that suggest a lack of intellectual prowess. For instance, its hunting strategy is largely based on ambush rather than strategic planning.

This shark spends most of its time hovering in the water column, waiting for prey to pass by. When a potential meal approaches, the Goblin Shark simply lunges forward, extending its jaws in a rapid, almost mechanical motion.

This is not the mark of a sophisticated predator that uses cunning or strategy but rather an instinctual response to stimuli.

The Goblin Shark’s sensory systems are not particularly advanced either. Unlike other shark species that utilize complex electro-sensory systems to detect the electrical signals emitted by their prey, the Goblin Shark relies heavily on its sense of smell.

This reliance on one sense over others indicates a lack of adaptability and versatility, traits often associated with higher cognitive function.

The Goblin Shark’s reproductive habits also hint at a lack of intelligence. Unlike many other shark species that exhibit complex mating rituals or behaviors, Goblin Sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning the female shark carries the eggs inside her body until they hatch.

There is no evidence of any courtship or mating behaviors, suggesting that reproduction is a purely instinctual process for these creatures.

7. Sloth

Sloth hanging on a branch of a tree

Sloth – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Sloths are native to the lowland tropical regions of South and Central America and they spend most of their time in the first canopy. There are two types of sloths, two-toed and three-toed sloths.

After the “Ice Age” movies, Sloths gained popularity, thanks to Sid the Sloth. Although Sid was portrayed as simple-minded, he often used his intelligence to save the day.

However, in reality, sloths are known for being lazy creatures.

They sleep most of the day and hardly leave the tree except for a quick bathroom break. Sometimes, during this break, they crawl to the ground and then climb back to the tree.

Unfortunately, due to their laziness, they can sometimes make mistakes, such as mistaking their own limbs for tree branches, which can lead to accidents and even death.

8. Koala

Female koala carrying its baby on its back on a tree branch

Koalas – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Koalas, often mistaken for bears due to their cuddly appearance, are actually marsupials native to Australia.

While they are undeniably cute, their intellectual capabilities are rather limited, making them a strong contender for the title of the dumbest animal.

The primary reason for their lack of intelligence is their diet, which consists almost entirely of eucalyptus leaves. These leaves are low in nutrition and high in toxins, which presents a significant challenge for the koala’s digestive system.

To deal with this, koala bears have evolved to have a slower metabolic rate, which in turn requires them to conserve energy and sleep for up to 22 hours a day. This leaves little time for learning or problem-solving, contributing to their low intellectual capacity.

The koala’s brain is unusually small in relation to its body size, occupying only 2% of their body weight. This is one of the smallest brain-to-body ratios of any mammal. Their brains are also smooth, a trait associated with less complex thought processes.

In terms of behavior, koalas are also not the brightest bulbs in the box. For instance, they have been observed attempting to eat leaves off of printed images of eucalypts, demonstrating a lack of ability to distinguish between real and artificial objects.

9. Kakapo

Closeup shot of a Kakapo

Kakapo – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Kakapo, a flightless parrot native to New Zealand, has often been characterized as one of the world’s dumbest animals. This is largely due to its peculiar, and seemingly unintelligent, behavioral traits.

Unlike most birds, the Kakapo has a distinct lack of fear towards predators. This is because, in its native habitat, it evolved without any natural enemies.

However, when humans introduced predators such as rats and stoats to New Zealand, the Kakapo’s lack of instinctual fear proved to be a significant disadvantage.

One of the Kakapo’s most baffling behaviors is its mating ritual. Male Kakapos produce a loud, low-frequency booming sound to attract females. The sound can be heard up to five kilometers away, effectively advertising its presence to predators.

The Kakapo’s mating call is not particularly effective either. Females often ignore the booming sound, resulting in a low rate of reproduction.

In addition, the Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot and its inability to fly makes it an easy target for predators. Instead of flying, it prefers to climb trees and walk on the ground, making it slower and more vulnerable.

Despite their seemingly “dumb” behavior, Kakapos are endearing creatures. Their lack of fear towards humans, combined with their friendly and curious nature, makes them incredibly unique.

10. Cane Toads

Selective focus of a cane toad on a mossy rock

Cane Toad – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Cane Toad, also known as the Giant Neotropical Toad, is a creature that has earned itself a spot on our list of the dumbest animals alive. Native to Central and South America, these amphibians are infamous for their lack of intelligence.

The Cane Toad’s primary strategy for survival is to consume anything that fits into its large, gaping maw. This includes everything from insects and small mammals to inanimate objects such as dog food and even garbage.

It’s this indiscriminate eating habit that often leads to their downfall. Their inability to distinguish between what is edible and what is not often results in them ingesting harmful substances, leading to their untimely demise.

Cane Toads are notorious for their poor decision-making skills when it comes to choosing a safe place to lay their eggs. They often select highly unsuitable locations, including busy roads or in the middle of fields, leading to a high mortality rate among their offspring.

Plus, you’ll often see them humping on anything and everything including dead animals, snakes, lizards, mice, salamanders, and other creatures. Their males even hump on even female toads that have been run over by a car.

11. Norwegian Lemmings

A Norwegian lemming on rocky ground

Norwegian Lemming – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Norwegian Lemmings, small rodents known for their distinctive fur color, have earned a place on our list of the dumbest animals alive. Their lack of intelligence is primarily evident in their infamous mass migration behavior.

Contrary to popular belief, these lemmings do not commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs—a myth popularized by a 1958 Disney nature documentary. However, their actual behavior is not much smarter.

When the population becomes too dense, Norwegian Lemmings will migrate in large groups. The problem arises when they encounter obstacles such as rivers or lakes. Instead of finding a safer route, they will attempt to swim across, often resulting in mass drownings.

Norwegian Lemmings are also known for their aggressive behavior. They will not hesitate to pick fights with predators much larger than themselves. In fact, they are known to attack animals much larger than them like cats, birds of prey, and even dogs.

While this might be seen as bravery, from a survival standpoint, it’s not the smartest strategy. Their boldness often leads to a shorter lifespan, making their survival strategy questionable at best.

Norwegian Lemmings, with their misguided migration habits and reckless confrontations, are a prime example of animal behavior that lacks intelligence.

12. Japanese Land Snails

Japanese land snail shell on a white background

Japanese Land Snail – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Japanese land snails, or Eobania vermiculate, are a species of air-breathing land snails that are widely recognized for their lack of intellectual prowess.

While it’s true that all animals have their unique strengths and weaknesses, the Japanese land snail is a creature that is particularly lacking in the intelligence department.

One of the primary reasons for their inclusion on this list is their highly inefficient method of locomotion. Unlike many other animals that have developed efficient ways of moving around their environment, the Japanese land snail relies on a slow, labor-intensive method of crawling.

This makes them easy prey for a variety of predators and exposes them to numerous environmental hazards.

They also lack the complex social structures seen in many other species, and their rudimentary senses provide them with only the most basic understanding of their surroundings.

Their mating habits also leave much to be desired in terms of intelligence. To reproduce, Japanese land snails shoot “love darts” at potential mates.

However, their aim is often so poor that they frequently miss their intended target, leading to wasted energy and resources.

13. Slow Loris

Slow loris on a tree branch

Slow Loris – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Slow Loris, a small nocturnal primate native to Southeast Asia, is another contender for the title of the dumbest animal.

Despite being undeniably cute with its large, round eyes and soft fur, the Slow Loris is not particularly gifted when it comes to intelligence.

The Slow Loris’s primary defense mechanism is to freeze in place when threatened, making it easy prey for predators. This lack of a more effective survival strategy is a clear indication of the Slow Loris’s limited cognitive capabilities.

The Slow Loris is also known for its peculiar habit of licking a toxic secretion from glands near its elbows, which it then spreads over its fur as a form of protection.

While this might seem like a clever strategy at first glance, it is quite dangerous. The toxic secretion can cause severe allergic reactions in predators, but it can also harm the Slow Loris itself if ingested.

The Slow Loris’s lack of intelligence is also evident in its feeding habits. Unlike other primates that use tools to access food or engage in complex social behaviors to share resources, the Slow Loris simply grabs whatever food is within reach.

This lack of problem-solving skills and social intelligence further cements the Slow Loris’s position as one of the dumbest animals.

14. Northern Fulmar Chicks

Northern Fulmar chick on the ground

Northern Fulmar Chick – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Northern Fulmar chicks, inhabitants of the Arctic and subarctic regions, are a prime example of an animal species that, in the grand scheme of evolution, seems to have drawn the short straw in terms of intelligence.

While many animal species have developed intricate survival strategies, these chicks have a rather counterproductive one.

Northern Fulmar chicks are known for their defense mechanism, which involves regurgitating a foul-smelling oil onto predators. This oil, while effective at deterring predators, is also extremely sticky and can mat the chicks’ feathers together.

This can render the chicks unable to fly, making them easy prey for other predators. This lack of foresight makes them a strong contender for the title of ‘dumbest animal’.

These chicks are also known for their lack of discrimination when it comes to food. They will eat almost anything they come across, including plastic debris.

This indiscriminate eating habit often leads to death, as the plastic debris can cause internal blockages and injuries.

15. Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird on a green lawn

Secretary Bird – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Secretary Bird, despite its dignified name and striking appearance, is not the brightest bird in the aviary.

This African bird, known for its long, crane-like legs and eagle-like body, has a rather peculiar, and frankly, unintelligent way of hunting.

The Secretary Bird is a terrestrial bird of prey, meaning it spends most of its time on the ground. It hunts by stomping on its prey until the prey is incapacitated or dead.

This method, while somewhat effective, is not the most efficient or smart. The bird often misses its target, and small, agile prey can easily evade the bird’s stomping feet.

The Secretary Bird’s lack of intelligence is also evident in its nesting habits. Unlike most birds, which build nests in trees or cliffs for safety, the Secretary Bird builds its nest on the ground, making it vulnerable to predators.

Despite its less-than-stellar hunting techniques and questionable nesting habits, the Secretary Bird has managed to survive in the harsh African savannah. However, its lack of intellectual prowess places it firmly on the list of the world’s dumbest animals.

16. Horned Lizard

Horned lizard on sand

Horned Lizard – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Horn Lizard, also known as the “horny toad” or “horn toad”, is a reptile that inhabits the arid regions of North and Central America.

This creature, despite its fascinating appearance, earns its place on the list of the dumbest animals due to its bizarre and seemingly unintelligent survival strategies.

Let’s consider its primary defense mechanism. When threatened, the Horn Lizard resorts to a peculiar tactic. It increases the blood pressure in the vessels around its eyes, forcing them to burst and squirt blood at the predator.

While this may startle or confuse the predator momentarily, it doesn’t take much for any predator to realize that this tactic is relatively harmless.

This method of defense can potentially harm the lizard itself, as it loses a significant amount of blood in the process.

The Horn Lizard’s diet is incredibly restrictive, consisting almost entirely of ants. This dietary specialization leaves the lizard vulnerable to changes in ant populations.

If the local ant population declines, the lizard may starve. This lack of adaptability in the face of environmental changes is another factor that contributes to the Horn Lizard’s classification as one of the dumbest animals.

The Horn Lizard’s reproductive strategy is also questionable. Females lay their eggs in shallow holes in the sand and then abandon them.

This leaves the eggs vulnerable to predators and the elements. The young lizards receive no parental care or protection, which decreases their chances of survival.

17. Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon on the ground

Komodo Dragon – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Komodo dragon, despite its intimidating size and prehistoric appearance, is not the brightest creature in the animal kingdom. The largest living species of lizard, it may have a fearsome reputation, but its intellectual capabilities are notably lacking.

These lizards from Indonesia are primarily solitary creatures, exhibiting minimal social behavior. Their communication skills are extremely limited, and they do not demonstrate any significant problem-solving abilities.

While they are excellent hunters, their hunting strategy is based more on power and stealth than on intelligence. They rely on their keen sense of smell to locate prey, rather than employing complex hunting techniques.

Komodo dragons show no signs of learning from past experiences either. They repeat the same mistakes over and over, indicating a lack of memory or understanding.

For example, they routinely approach electric fences and receive shocks, yet they continue to do so without learning to avoid the fences. Komodo dragons also have a highly bacteria-laden mouth that can kill larger animals with a single bite.

In captivity, Komodo dragons exhibit little curiosity or interest in their surroundings, further suggesting a lack of intelligence. They spend most of their time lying around, showing no signs of boredom or desire for stimulation.

While the Komodo dragon is indeed a fascinating creature, it is not a particularly intelligent one. Its strength and size may be impressive, but its cognitive abilities leave much to be desired.

18. Killdeer

Killdeer on the ground pretending to be injured

Killdeer – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Killdeer, a small plover, is a great example of the saying, “brains over brawn”. This bird, while not physically imposing, certainly has a knack for theatrics.

However, it is this very dramatic flair that earns it a spot on our list of the dumbest animals alive.

The Killdeer is known for its “broken-wing act,” a deceptive maneuver it employs when a predator is near its nest. The bird will pretend to have a broken wing, flapping around pathetically on the ground to lure the predator away from its precious eggs.

Once the predator is sufficiently distracted, the Killdeer miraculously recovers and flies away, leaving the confused predator behind.

While this may seem like a smart survival tactic, it’s the Killdeer’s over-reliance on this trick that earns it the dubious distinction of being one of the dumbest animals. This is because the Killdeer will perform its broken-wing act even when there is no immediate danger, thus unnecessarily exposing itself to potential threats.

The Killdeer’s nesting habits don’t do it any favors either. The bird will lay its eggs in open areas with minimal cover, making them easy targets for predators.

Despite the obvious risks, the Killdeer continues this reckless behavior, further cementing its place on this list.

19. Giraffes

Family of giraffes on a savannah

Giraffes – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Giraffes, the tallest mammals on Earth, are a marvel to behold. Their elongated necks, a result of millions of years of evolution, allow them to reach the lofty heights of acacia trees, their primary food source.

However, despite their impressive stature and unique adaptations, giraffes are not known for their intellectual prowess.

The giraffe’s brain, in comparison to its towering body, is relatively small. This limited brain size restricts the giraffe’s ability to perform complex problem-solving tasks. Their social structure, or lack thereof, is another clear indication of their limited cognitive abilities.

Unlike elephants or primates, who live in complex social groups, giraffes lead relatively solitary lives, with loose and ever-changing herd structures.

This suggests a lack of social intelligence, which is often a key indicator of overall intelligence in animals.

Giraffes also have a peculiar and rather inefficient feeding habit. Despite having access to a variety of vegetation, they insist on consuming acacia leaves, known for their thorny defenses and relatively low nutritional value.

This stubborn dietary preference indicates a lack of adaptability and poor decision-making skills, further cementing the giraffe’s position on our list of the world’s dumbest animals.

20. Lilac-breasted Roller

Closeup shot of a Lilac-breasted roller perching on a branch

Lilac-breasted Roller – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Lilac-breasted Roller, a bird species native to sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, is an exquisite sight to behold. Its vibrant plumage, consisting of seven distinct colors, makes it one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

However, when it comes to cognitive abilities, the Lilac-breasted Roller leaves much to be desired, which is why it has earned a spot on our list of the dumbest animals.

Despite being an apex predator in its environment, the Lilac-breasted Roller lacks the basic instinct to protect its young.

Unlike other bird species that build nests high in the trees to keep their offspring safe from predators, the Lilac-breasted Roller lays its eggs in ground holes. This peculiar behavior puts its young at a significantly higher risk of predication.

This bird species has a rather unusual mating ritual as well. The male roller performs a series of acrobatic displays, including dives and rolls, to attract a mate.

While this might seem like an intelligent tactic, it often makes the male roller an easy target for predators.

This lack of self-preservation instinct further accentuates the bird’s limited cognitive abilities. The Lilac-breasted Roller also lacks problem-solving skills, a trait common in many bird species.

For instance, when presented with the simple task of retrieving food from a transparent container, the Lilac-breasted Roller fails to comprehend the situation, often attempting to reach the food through the container’s sides rather than its open top.

 

Other Animal Guides from Planet Natural:

20 Smartest Animals in the World (And What Makes Them Smart)

Feeding Frenzy: 10 Animals with the Largest Appetites

These 12 Animals Are So Slow, They’re Practically Standing Still!