Does Another Species Already Rule the Earth?
Rats and ants are contenders; others may rise up
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2014 4:31 PM CDT
In this June 15, 2010 file photo, a rat moves along the ground near the subway tracks at Union Square in New York.    (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

(Newser) – Humans have been ruling Earth for a while now, but are we just a flash in the pan? Scientists are analyzing other species and asking whether any will eventually take over should we perish by plague, climate change, war, famine, you name it. Or perhaps one already dominates without our realizing it. Among the contenders:

  • Of course, rats. They're intelligent, they thrive around the world, and have an impressive social structure, LiveScience reports. And don't be underwhelmed by their size: One expert notes that precursors to big creatures like horses, mastodons, and mammoths were only about rat-sized until the dinosaurs died off, Care2 reports. Then the little guys took advantage and grew—a phenomenon known as "gigantism."
  • Bacteria already outperform humans in some ways, a professor tells LiveScience. "There are infinitely more of them—well, almost—than there are of us," he says. They also reproduce faster, have been around longer, and "will be around after we are gone."
  • Ants are also silent rulers, outweighing us in numbers and total weight. African army ants are so effective that some move in 100-foot-long swarms that can kill a tethered cow or possibly a human baby. "There is a reason why women in equatorial Africa carry babies on their back and don't put them in a crib," an entomologist says.
  • Should we die off, contenders include dolphins and porpoises (intelligence) and cephalopods like octopuses and squids (relatively big brains and eyes)—at least underwater, Pacific Standard reports.

One expert notes that all contenders are social species, yet there's one exception: artificial intelligence. "If something else intelligent arises, it will be electronic and [we'll have] made it," a paleobiologist tells LiveScience. (See how humans may have made mammoths go extinct.)

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Showing 3 of 28 comments
MrBadExample
Jul 20, 2014 1:24 PM CDT
Unless rats are smart enough to dress themselves in hazmat lead-lined suits, they won't survive the radiation from Fukushima and its 440 personal friends. One of the issues with climate change and warming is that humans may be out of the climate equation at some point by 2100, and probably even earlier. It would be bad enough if we were leaving behind simply a super-heated planet--the Earth might recover in a few hundred thousand years. But if we haven't decommissioned and retired all our nuclear reactors before our departure, they will all go into meltdown mode. And then there are the thousands of tons of waste that are sitting in storage. The good news is that we're going to be the dominant species of the sixth great extinction, coming to a lifeform near you.
fractal
Jul 19, 2014 3:04 AM CDT
No one even considers the plant kingdom! Check out the largest organism on earth: abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=120049
Winston_Smith
Jul 19, 2014 12:24 AM CDT
Bill Gates predicted 30 years ago that, by around the year 2050, software will take over and humans will be carbon based pets.