The future could belong to rats—perhaps enormous ones. So say scientists in Britain, based on a thought experiment. Geological historian Jan Zalasiewicz notes that some of his colleagues fear the planet could be headed for its next mass extinction in the next several centuries, thanks to humans' detrimental effects on the environment, LiveScience reports. If such an extinction occurs, Zalasiewicz and his team say, rats may be the best-equipped to take over afterward.
After all, even as we've tried to limit rat populations, they've remained hardy, with a presence on most of the Earth's big landmasses and islands. They can handle all kinds of environments, suggesting their species could have the best odds of surviving a mass extinction. Historically, animals get bigger as they take over, so think 20-pounders or even much larger, says Zalasiewicz in the Daily Mail. It wouldn't happen for three to 10 million years, he helpfully notes. Of course, "it's a guess; it's a thought experiment," he says. "But it is based on the way that geology has operated in the past and the types of creatures that have been successful." In an email to the Guardian, Zalasiewicz adds that "cats, rabbits," and "feral pigs" are also candidates to outlast us. (As for rats taking over, Columbus, Ohio, knows the feeling.)