6 Animals With Better Memories Than You

We tend to think of ourselves as the smartest animals on earth. After all, we've built such technological wonders as the Internet, the internal combustion engine and sneakers that light up when you take a step. But despite our big, juicy frontal lobe, many of us still forget to pick up the kids after practice due to our inferior memory, one area where a whole bunch of animals leave us in the dust. For instance ...

#6. Chimpanzees' Visual Memory Can Top Yours

Try this quick test:

Glance at the image below for two seconds only. Don't cheat. Then cover it with your hand and remember exactly where each digit was, in order.


Can't do it? Congratulations, you just got your ass handed to you by a chimp.

In a Kyoto University study, a bunch of chimps were taught to count from one to nine, which is impressive enough already, but then each of the subjects was shown some randomly scattered numbers on a computer screen. The numbers were then covered and the subjects were required to identify the position of each number in order (putting us at Cracked at a distinct disadvantage due to our crippling inability to list numbers in any order but descending).

How did they do? Startlingly well, as the quite frankly insane video proves:

Scientists attribute this impressive display of working memory to "eidetic imagery," or what is commonly known as photographic memory. You've probably heard that term in reference to people who remember every little thing that's ever happened to them, but in this case it just means the chimps seem to have a really good visual memory -- they can remember details of an image even if they just glimpsed it for a couple of seconds.

"I swear to God, man, I thought that stall was unoccupied."

And more amazingly, their performance did not decrease when the time spent looking at the image was shortened -- the chimps were memorizing all of the numbers almost instantaneously. Meanwhile, human subjects who were given the same test exhibited a steep decline in performance with the decrease in memorization time, an infraction that no doubt earned them a severe beating from their chimp overlords.

#5. Sea Lions Never Forget

Quick, what is your most lucid memory from exactly 10 years ago? Let's rephrase that -- what is your most lucid memory unrelated to that whole twin towers thing? Do you think you could remember the details of a card trick your uncle taught you, assuming you never saw or performed that card trick again between then and now? If not, then you just got outdone by a sea lion.

"That's your card. Fucking idiot."

Categorized by scientists as the cutest kind of lion, the sea lion is usually thought of as a lovable attention whore that will do just about anything for a couple of raw fish. But while trainers have spent years teaching sea lions cheap parlor tricks, they have also discovered that these creatures have an amazing long-term memory, which will be exploited in order to teach them more cheap parlor tricks.

Lars K. Jensen
Sea lions: Whores of the ocean.

Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz were able to teach a sea lion named Rio the concept of "sameness" by showing Rio a symbol and then showing her one card with the same symbol and one with a different one. If she correctly identified the same symbol, she was rewarded with a fish, which she would eat with all the tear-filled shame you would expect from a sea lion that's given up her last shred of dignity. This level of advanced cognitive functioning is impressive in itself, but Rio's biggest feat would come a decade later.

Her name is Rio and she flops across the sand ...

After 10 freaking years, Rio was given a similar test, only this time it used numbers and letters instead of symbols. She was able to identify the numbers and letters that were the same, despite the fact that she had not performed the trick again at any point in the last decade. This is the longest known retention period of any animal species, and is all the more impressive due to the 25-year lifespan of the sea lion. We'll see how well you remember the things you learned at 30 when you turn 70.

"It was something about alcohol and brain cells. Probably not important."

Scientists believe that this memory serves to help sea lions identify prey that they may only encounter once every few years. Or to help the sea lion exact horrible revenge on its slave masters many years after the fact.

#4. An Elephant Keeps Track of Dozens of Other Elephants at Once


Here's a question for all you parents, babysitters and camp counselors: How many infants can you keep track of at any one time? Anyone who has spent time dealing with children knows that if you stop watching for 10 seconds, they'll be running around in traffic, making friends with savage animals and lining up to take candy from strangers.

If you're a human being, the answer is probably around three or four. If you're an elephant, it's more in the area of 30. Way to go, supermom!

"I swear to God, Dumbo, you are not my favorite."

Elephants can keep track of the whereabouts of up to 30 family members, regardless of their distance or direction. They accomplish this incredible task by creating a mental map that locates the position of each family member, even if some are separated from the rest of the pachydermal pack. How do they do this? Through their astounding ability to track and catalogue elephant pee.

If it wasn't for that, elephants would go missing constantly.

Whenever they encounter the scent of another elephant's urine, an elephant can record in its computerish brain the location and direction of the pisser. This enables them to devote a sizable portion of their working memory to maintaining these expansive mental maps.

The only thing we can detect is the lingering aroma of asparagus.

To test this, scientists gathered urine samples from other elephants and presented them to their relatives. When the samples were from elephants who were far away, or had not yet passed by the area, the elephants reacted with surprise. We're not sure how the scientists detected "surprise" in elephants, but we trust their judgment.

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