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.)