Smart and Spineless

Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence

  • Interest Level: Grade 5 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 7

When you think of smart animals, what comes to mind? Wise old owls? Problem-solving dolphins? Maybe you have heard of Koko the gorilla, who has mastered one thousand signs in American Sign Language, or Chaser the border collie, who recognizes one thousand names for her stuffed toys.

But what about ants building megacolonies or bees reporting to the hive about new nesting sites? What about escape artist octopuses and jellyfish that use their eyes (they have twenty-four!) to navigate? Are insects, spiders, and other animals without backbones considered smart, too?

When we think of intelligent creatures, we often think of vertebrates, or animals with spinal columns and relatively large brains. We don’t usually think of invertebrates, or animals without a spine. But invertebrates can be astonishingly intelligent. These animals exhibit surprising feats of learning, memory, and problem-solving using their relatively simple, tiny brains—some the size of a sesame seed or even smaller. In fact, some intelligent invertebrates have no brain at all!

Scientists around the world are putting invertebrate intelligence to use in mind-boggling ways. Engineers are designing swarmbots based on bees to take part in search-and-rescue efforts. And materials scientists are basing a new, tough ceramic on the structure of a mantis shrimp’s claw. In Smart and Spineless, readers will be challenged to think in a whole new way about what it means to be smart!

Format Your Price Add
Interest Level Grade 5 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Science, Young Adult
Category Animals
Copyright 2016
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Twenty-First Century Books ™
Language English
Number of Pages 88
Publication Date 2015-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 11.5
Text Type Informational/Explanatory
BISACS YAN003030, YAN003000, YAN050130
Dewey 592.13
Dimensions 7 x 9
Lexile 1210
ATOS Reading Level 7.8
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 176191
Accelerated Reader® Points 3.0
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Charts/Graphs/Diagrams, Index, Reviewed, Sidebars, Source notes, Starred Reviews, and Table of contents


  • AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books Commended Book, Commended, 2016



“Lucid and well organized, the writing grips readers with a combination of facts and related narrative accounts of scientists at work. . . . A fascinating book for science fans.”—starred, Booklist

School Library Journal

“Downer does a fine job revealing the intelligence of the spineless creatures that make up more than 90 percent of animals on Earth.”—School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“[T]his fact-filled text has intriguing examples and surprising, memorable details…making this an ideal starting place for research….Science facts more surprising than science fiction for teen readers.”―Kirkus Reviews

Author: Ann Downer

Ann Downer was born in Virginia and spent part of her childhood in the Philippines and in Thailand. She is the author of five fantasy novels for young readers and three previous books about science, including the award-winning Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication for Twenty-First Century Books. Her first picture book, Shark Baby, was published in 2013. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. Their backyard is visited by woodchucks, skunks, and rabbits, but no bears—so far.