The Smartest Insects: 5 Most Intelligent Bugs

Albert Einstein said,” if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its entire life thinking it’s dumb.” The same goes for measuring the insect’s intellect. We can’t measure an insect’s intellect by its ability to handle algebra, but by how it goes about its business.

Honey bees are the most intelligent insects given how organized they are in dancing to signal to other bees, recognizing faces, using spies to find resources, and many other activities. They’re closely followed by ants, cockroaches, spiders, termites, and praying mantes. 

Insects are smart, but the level of their intellect is measured using different parameters. The fact that a bee can follow you if you look like a flower or smell so is a good sign of intelligence.

Ants Carrying a Frog

Insect intelligence: can insects be smart?

Can insects be smart? Yes, insects can be smart, and they utilize their intellect to survive and interact. 

You can tell insects are smart in the way they display their ability to:

  • Avoid predators
  • Find food
  • Build a strong team
  • Communicate
  • Cover long trails
  • Protect their young ones
  • Build colonies
  • Ensure continuity
  • Memorize routes 
  • Interpret weather patterns
  • Dance
  • Prey

The survival of insects is highly determined by how they respond to their surroundings. Some insects rely on their guts and ability to predict oncoming seasons to thrive.

Insects can be smart in adapting to their surroundings and ensure they never go extinct. Continuity happens when the insects form bonds and take care of their young ones to allow the longevity of their species.

Some insects use their cues to prevent their colonies from glaring danger. 

Ants, for instance, are great at using cues. They will use the sun’s positioning to determine the direction to follow. They also utilize wind direction, and the gradient, i.e., how steep or otherwise, to predict the best trail to follow.

Other insects use the ground texture to determine the prevailing odor and direction to follow. 

Insects such as bees have a hierarchical structure. So, as they move from one point to the next, they just don’t do it blindly; there is a way they do it to ensure they don’t lose the most important members of their colony.

Division of labor among bees is a measure of intelligence in that they understand the roles each plays right from a tender age and how to protect their colony from invasion.

Such behavioral traits prove that insects can be quite intelligent despite their small size.

The 5 smartest insects

The measure of intelligence among insects can’t be applied across the board since, just like humans, insects are unique in their own ways.

The five smartest insects are:

  • Honey bees
  • Ants
  • Cockroaches
  • Spiders 
  • Termites

Let’s look at how each of these qualifies to be among the smartest insects.

1. Honey Bees

The intelligence level of the honey bees is out of this world. Otherwise, how would you explain how the honey bees:

  • Copy the behavior of fellow bees. 
  • Identify and recognize faces. 
  • Orient fellow bees on how to carry out tasks. 
  • Waggle dance. 
  • Protect each other as they migrate. 
  • Send spies to identify new food sources. 
  • Understand simple arithmetics. 
  • They will know when a hive is queenless and act accordingly to replace her.

The honey bees use the waggle dance to communicate with the rest of the colony on critical issues.

They will dance in different directions to point out the next food source. For instance, if the spy bees dance upwards and straight, it’s telling the rest to head in the direction of the sign. To the left or right means the direction of the food source from the sun.

Now, the more vigorous the dance, the greater the source of food that awaits. Having seen this dances a few times, I can attest that thats some top-level intelligence from such tiny insects.

Personally, the fact that bees understand the anatomy of a beehive and can even repalicte the same structure in the wild is a sign of a high level of intelligence.

2. Ants

Intelligence in ants is seen in how they can remain united as a team and feed themselves.

They cover long distances and can maneuver through long distances as a group. Managing and maintaining teams is hard to manage, even for human beings. Colonies come naturally for the ants. 

Ants can be termed the most hardworking and resilient insects as they will cover long trails for food, protection, and survival. This explains how they are found in almost all continents except Antarctica.

Here are some things that the ants do that make them intelligent:

  • They are cultivators: Yes, ants such as leafcutters will cut leaves and harbor them in their residence to grow fungi that they later consume. Picture that. Isn’t that intelligence for such a small creature?
  • They protect aphids: As much as you hate aphids, ants love them and will go a long way to protect them from predators because the aphid’s secretion is a great food source for the ants. They even feed the aphids and remove their wings to ensure they don’t fly away. That ensures they have enough food supplies even in the offseason.
  • Interestingly, ants train others on how and where to find food
  • They fight and concur against new territories
  • Ants are great at looking out for each other: They will carry injured comrades back to their territory.
  • Some ants are bullies: They will capture and enslave their fellow ants from other colonies and make them work.

Interesting right?

3. Cockroaches

As much as you hate them and always feel like kicking them out, roaches fall under the smartest bugs. How so?

Cockroaches can easily identify an escape route when faced with imminent danger. Furthermore, the ability of the cockroaches to master multiple escape routes makes them some of the most intelligent insects.

Anytime you threaten a roach, you’ll notice how fast it scampers to safety. This is because they don’t do it blindly; the route they use is ingrained and memorized as an escape route beforehand. Isn’t that smart for a cockroach?

Cockroaches are fast learners, and it’s easy to train them. They easily understand how to respond to a trigger or stimuli. That explains why some weak insecticides may not remove the roaches as they learn to adapt and survive.

4. Spiders 

Different spiders showcase their intelligence in different ways:

  • For example, the jumping spider will dance in an attempt of foreplay to entice their partners. 
  • Jumping spiders are also known to move in circles around their prey so they can capture them off guard.
  • Black widow spiders can figure out the shape and size of their target prey, capture them, and return to their web after a long duration.
  • Most spider genera have foresight and can plan how to prey on their target. They will plan before they pursue their target. For an arachnid that size, it’s intelligent.

Spiders are known to create some of the most intricate webs to capture their prey and for other purposes. 

5. Termites

Yes, termites made it to the top five smartest insects list. Why? Because, both as individuals and groups, termites exhibit great intellect.

How so?

  • Termites make their environments suitable for them to inhabit. They will mix many materials, including clay soil, leaves, sand, and stones to the ideal condition.
  • They mix the substances to control soil erosion and ensure they are well stocked with relevant nutrients.
  • To remain moist as they should, termites cover their paths with feces and dirt. How about that?
  • They are good at engineering travel tubes to act as protective gear that keeps the ants alive and the dry air away.

Termites feed each other mainly through the mouth and sometimes the anus. The soldier termites whose jaws penetrate through the mouth are usually fed to avoid hurting themselves.


The animal kingdom is broad, and to even think of insects as intelligent is fascinating, given their size. However, nature has a way of ensuring the longevity of most species through their adaptation and intelligence, and insects are no different.

Insects’ intelligence is a mystery and how they can survive and adapt to ecology is an area of deep study. 

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