Smartest Reptiles

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Updated: September 27, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/takeo1775
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When you think clever animals, birds and mammals will probably be top on your list. Most people don’t consider reptiles to be very intelligent because lizards and snakes simply have unimpressive personalities. Turtles are famous for being slow, and snakes have a mean reputation. Interestingly, studies have shown that reptiles are very intelligent creatures. In this post, we’ll list the smartest reptiles in the world to give you a better appreciation of these underrated creatures. 

King Cobra

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) The world's longest venomous snake
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) The world’s longest venomous snake

iStock.com/takeo1775

African andsSouthern Asian tropical regions are home to the king cobra, a kind of snake with a reputation as one of the most dangerous reptiles in the world. However, one other thing you probably didn’t know about the king cobra is how intelligent it is. One major trait that shows how intelligent the king cobra is and how it attacks when disturbed. Unlike other snakes that will strike at an attacker mindlessly, the king cobra will take time to study its victim to determine the best way to attack. This fact alone makes it a formidable predator and a dangerous animal to encounter.

Alligator

Gator from Lakeland Florida
Very large alligator feels threatened.

iStock.com/Alex Pankratov

Alligators are skilled hunters that prey on fish, turtles, and small mammals. They may also attack other alligators, taking them by surprise. Extensive studies have been carried out to show just how intelligent this aquatic reptile is. In one study, scientists were able to prove that alligators can count up to six objects. They can also be trained through positive reinforcement in the same way dogs and many other animals can. Adult alligators can also figure things out on their own through trial and error, with younger alligators learning how to hunt by observing their parents. 

Giant Tortoise

Giant Tortoises have an incredible memory

Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps – Public Domain

One of the biggest living turtles on earth, giant tortoises, may weigh up to 400 pounds. They occupy various islands in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Some of these tortoises have even been reported to swim across whole seas. From observation, scientists now know that this slow giant is not a slow poke. In fact, giant tortoises have a memory that is sharper than that of many other reptiles. One proof of this is their ability to remember where they bury food and to distinguish between specific people and animals.

Crocodile

The crocoldile’s skin colorings and pattern camoflage the animal in the wild.

Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock.com

Crocodiles are cunning creatures with fairly advanced hunting tactics. This voracious predator has been known to spend several hours underwater, waiting for their prey to approach before leaping out to grab it. This advanced “hunting-by-surprise” tactic is observed in the big cats and other advanced predators. 

Some species of crocodiles also exhibit very advanced behaviors. One of such is the Australian freshwater crocodile. The reptile in question can scale trees – a pretty advanced behavior for such an animal. Although scientists are yet unsure exactly how these reptiles developed this ability, they think it could be related to the fact that they live in regions with limited places to hide from predators. But it could merely be an adaptation to enjoy the sun. To pursue their food, these freshwater crocodiles frequently perch on tree branches, where they may reach heights of up to six meters (nearly 20 feet).

Emerald Anole

Male brown Anole lizard with throat fan expanded.
Anole lizards can find hidden insect larvae

Steve Bower/Shutterstock.com

The emerald anole is not as large as the other reptiles on this list, but it is undoubtedly one of the smartest. Native to Puerto Rico’s Luquillo Mountains, this cunning tiny reptile has been known to discover insect larvae hidden under plastic discs on its own. From this experiment, scientists determined that Anole’s cognitive ability is on par with many mammals and birds

Snapping Turtles

What Do Snapping Turtles Eat
Snapping turtles have incredibly powerful jaws

Sista Vongjintanaruks/Shutterstock.com

The North American snapping turtle is a giant aquatic reptile, and like most turtles, most people would pass it off as a slow, unimpressive creature. These turtles are renowned for their aggressive nature and tendency to snap their jaws on anything approaching. This is why they’re called snapping turtles or “alligator snappers.” Snapping turtles can learn to recognize food containers or specific sounds in their habitat. They’re also reputed for their impressive escape tactics, which makes them challenging pets to keep. 

Black Mambas

Black mamba in a defensive posture
A black mamba can raise up to 40% of its body off the ground, explaining why most bites are on the upper body.

Cormac Price/Shutterstock.com

Africa is home to one of the world’s most dangerous animals – the black mamba. They’re among the most feared snakes on the planet, and rightfully so. The black mamba can strike up to 12 times per second and is exceptionally swift and agile. Interestingly, black mambas are not aggressive snakes and will only strike if they feel threatened. They have enough sense to know when to use their lethal venom. The black mamba’s remarkable intelligence is also shown by how they respond to disturbance. When threatened, they can calculate their next move quickly and find the safest way to escape the situation. 

Iguanas

iguana
Iguanas have proved that they have exceptional intelligence.

Sanit Fuangnakhon/Shutterstock.com

The iguana lives in the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean. While iguanas require a high level of care and commitment, they’re popular to keep as pets. The pleasant behavior of this lizard also ranks them high among the most well-liked reptile pets worldwide. Iguanas can learn how to open doors and retrieve items and are intelligent enough to comprehend simple directions. Despite being great pets, iguanas do pose certain dangers. When they achieve sexual maturity, they might become hostile and possessive. Iguana attacks by adult males have been reported to cause significant harm to humans and other animals.

Frilled-Neck Lizard

Frilled Lizards are some of the smartest reptiles in the world
Frilled neck lizard have large flaps of skin around their necks which they use to intimidate predators with

Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

The frilled neck lizard is a huge lizard that can reach lengths of up to 1 meter (about 3 feet). This reptile’s ability to intimidate predators is perhaps the most intelligent trait it exhibits. The frilled-neck lizard has a flap of skin around its neck that is typically folded down. However, when threatened by a larger predator, the lizard will extend this flap to give the appearance that it is larger and more aggressive. The frilled-neck lizards can also stand on their hind legs like humans and sprint to charge at predators or run away. These are impressive behaviors that show just how intelligent they are. 

Conclusion

Although most reptiles lack the intelligence of high animals like mammals or birds, some of them, like the ones listed here, are pretty intelligent. So while you may not be able to teach them advanced tricks like a dog or monkey, the smartest reptiles still demonstrate some remarkable traits that show they’re intelligent. 

Up Next

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) The world's longest venomous snake
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) The world's longest venomous snake
iStock.com/takeo1775
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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing on health, technology and animals. He is inquisitive and currently aspires to become a software engineer. He loves animals, especially horses and would love to have one someday.

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Sources
  1. Reptile Direct, Available here: https://www.reptiledirect.com/most-intelligent-reptiles/
  2. Reptile Encounters, Available here: https://www.reptileencounters.com.au/news/the-5-most-intelligent-reptiles/
  3. Fauna Facts, Available here: https://faunafacts.com/reptiles/smartest-reptiles-list/