Memory is valuable for learning and adapting to everyday life. Without memory, we can’t access the information we learned from an hour or a day before. We wouldn’t be able to locate our car keys either! Animals also rely on memory for various reasons, but especially for remembering food source locations. Animals with the best memory often also have long lifespans, relying on their ability to remember to survive or socialize.
This article features 13 animals, not counting humans, with extraordinary abilities to remember. Some of the reasons why these animals have such amazing memories may even surprise you!
13 animals with the best memory
While you may have heard of the phrase “an elephant never forgets,” they aren’t the only animals that have incredible memories. Here’s a list of 13 animals that remember exceptionally well.
Scientific family: Delphinidae
Out of all the animals with great memories, dolphins are one of the best. These social and playful animals use their memory to remember other dolphins they’ve met before and keep track of their social interactions.
Every dolphin has a unique whistle. Scientists have found these animals can identify the “voices” of dolphins they know – even when they haven’t seen each other after 20 years. Since they rely on cooperation in groups to survive, remembering friendly dolphins and “foes” can help them survive better in the wild.
Scientific family: Elephantidae
Elephants are intelligent animals that can learn to paint and also have incredible memories. They use this ability to track up to 30 family members using a mental map to locate member positions, no matter the direction or distance. Their memory abilities let them break into small groups when socializing or finding food without worrying they will lose each other. Their amazing sense of smell contributes to their mental map by helping them sense location changes to keep the map accurate.
Elephants also use their memory to help identify dangerous and non-dangerous animals and humans. They can even remember humans based on their voices to help them avoid potentially threatening people.
Scientific order: Cetacea
Whales take advantage of their memory ability in multiple ways to survive in the wild. For starters, memory helps with learning and they will teach their young how to play and hunt – a lifelong skill each whale develops.
Whales also migrate along the same water routes, such as heading south when the water is colder during the winter months. They use their memory to navigate the ocean. Last but not least, fishermen often report whales can recognize their boats, even after a long time. This is important, especially when whales need to avoid whale hunting ships.
Scientific order: Octopoda
Octopuses have both short-term and long-term memory powered by half a billion neurons. These animals can even enhance their short-term memory during times of stress when they need to learn quickly to survive. Another fascinating fact is each of their eight legs has its own memory, giving them better reaction time to their surroundings.
The octopus is an incredibly intelligent creature that can completely change their color and texture to match anything in their environment. They are also known for having multiple hearts.
Scientific genus: Pan
Chimpanzees are considered a lesser ape species, however, these animals have memory capacities greater than humans. A study at the Kyoto University found that chimpanzees can memorize numbers accurately and faster than humans. Scientists predict this is because they have a photographic memory.
These animals use their short-term memory to help them locate items in their habitat. They rely on their long-term memory to remember predators and even humans unsafe to them.
Scientific name: Equus caballus
Before research confirmed that horses had excellent memories, owners already recognized how their pet horses could remember them after years of separation. Besides human friends, horses can remember family members and other horses within their community. These animals also have the ability to recall how to solve complex problems, including strategies that have worked over ten years ago.
Scientific name: Canis lupus familiaris
You might have heard stories of dogs being able to find their way home after traveling far away or being gone for a long time. It’s because they have amazing memories. Dogs are also able to recognize owners they haven’t seen in a long time, including humans who mistreated them.
Their memories contribute to why they can learn tricks and remember procedures. There’s no surprise dogs are the go-to animals to assist police officers. Law enforcement train dogs to track criminals, locate drugs, and more!
8. Sea lion
Scientific name: Otariinae
Sea lions are lovable animals that you can easily teach parlor tricks to. On top of this, they also have a great long-term memory. Scientists found that sea lions can remember a trick they were taught 10 years ago easily. With their 25-year lifespan, this is quite an impressive accomplishment. It is believed their long-term memory helps them remember prey they may encounter only once every few years.
Scientific family: Sciuridae
Squirrels and nuts come hand in hand and these animals are known to bury supplies in the autumn to dig up later. Their memory helps them accurately find the specific locations where they buried their nuts.
While they can use their sense of smell to find hidden nuts, even of other squirrels, scientists have observed they will use memory when they are really hungry. If they need food quickly, they’ll go straight to a location they remember they hid supplies.
10. Clark’s nutcracker
Scientific name: Nucifraga columbiana
As their name suggests, the Clark’s nutcracker bird enjoys eating nuts. In fact, they enjoy this diet so much that they will hide thousands of nuts during the fall to uncover them in the winter to eat. Their memory is so good they can remember the exact location of around 33,000 pine nuts!
These birds use spatial memory so they can remember landmarks like trees to pinpoint locations of pinenuts within a 15-mile area. They can easily find these nuts under thick layers of snow efficiently.
Scientific order: Psittaciformes
Parrots are a great example of animals with long life spans that have an excellent memory to match. These birds can live up to 80 years and remember people for a long time as well.
Another neat trick their memory contributes to is their ability to remember words and sentences and repeat them back to you. They can even learn to use the words at the appropriate moments. This takes a great memory to store all that information!
Scientific family: Corvidae
Parrots aren’t the only birds with long memories, both crows and ravens have exceptional memories and are extremely smart as well. In fact, all members of the corvid family which includes crows, ravens, and magpies, are considered by many experts to be the smartest birds on earth. These birds can solve complex problems and even use tools.
By wearing masks when they trapped and banded a group of crows, researchers learned that crows can remember a “dangerous face” for at least 5 years. These birds in a 5 year study were able to link a person’s face to a stressful event. This allowed them to warn their friends that the person was coming.
13. Red-footed tortoises
Scientific name: Chelonoidis carbonaria
In 2017, researchers found that red-footed tortoises have excellent memories for locating food they stashed away at least 18 months ago. These tortoises can also remember different qualities and quantities of food through visual associations.
For instance, they can learn what color jelly is associated with what flavor, including which flavor they prefer. This translates to survival in the wild since they can remember what plants and fruit to eat that offer them the best source of nutrients each season.