Question of the Week: If humans weren’t here, which animal could take our place?


We’re great, aren’t we? Flying around the globe in our artificial vehicles, showing off our large brains and swanky opposable thumbs. We’ve mastered the lot. We’ve left the trees, split the atom, stuck a flag in the surface of the moon and invented the cappuccino. We’re king of the world! Sort of.

No other animal has achieved the position that humans have. We have manipulated our environment to an extraordinary degree, and have used our powers of imagination to create all kinds of never before seen inventions. We can even listen to the ‘noise’ from events that happened billions of years ago! Cool, eh?

But the truth is that despite all this, we’re nothing special. Everything humans can do can be found to some degree in the animal kingdom, we just do more of it and all at once. It’s a matter of quantity rather than quality.

So this week’s question is this: if humans weren’t the dominant species on the planet, what other animal could potentially be in the driving seat?

Of course, evolution is not directed and we could simply be an aberation. The exercise is simply one of imagination. Maybe dolphins could have invented the ocean equivalent of the wheel? Maybe bears and their  big brains would eventually get around to doing something more than catching fish and scaring Heath Ledger off his horse? How about meerkats with their complex social structures? Why stick with mammals. Maybe the world could be run by giant lizards? If you speak to David Icke, that’s already the case…

So, who are the pretenders to humanity’s throne?

  1. #1 by Hayley on August 25, 2009 - 18:49

    Surely, wouldn’t it be one of the ape family?

    I’m going with the orangutan because they are, by far, the coolest and I like the librarian from the discworld.

  2. #2 by Marsh on August 25, 2009 - 19:00

    I’m gonna say squirrels, because they already have the tiny gripping hands thing down, and they’re good at working out those assault course things. Grey squirrels, obviously – I’m not mental.

    Frankly, Hayley, I think it’s a bit easy to say an ape! Think outside of the box a little! 😛

  3. #3 by Marsh on August 25, 2009 - 19:01

    On Facebook so far we have another vote for simians, and a very outside-of-the-box vote for ants. Great call. Maybe we should keep a tally, and then allow whoever wins to take over. A bit like an election, I suppose…

  4. #4 by Hayley on August 25, 2009 - 19:07

    I would think outside the box but it’s cosy in here. So blah.

  5. #5 by Colin H on August 25, 2009 - 19:38

    Ants are a good one, as they’re very populous and their social structures and nests are really complex. They’re a bit like robots though, as they don’t really have an awareness of what they’re doing, they just follow their hormones without thinking about it. Hang on, that’s what humans do…

    My money’s on meerkats. They’re co-operative, protect each other and have very human-like social structures. One of the few animals that have babysitters, and protect each other’s children as well as their own. Plus, when they’re threatened by a predator they all stand on each other’s shoulders to create a giant shadow to scare it off! Coolest animal ever!

    Plus they eat scorpions. FTW!

  6. #6 by Colonel Molerat on August 26, 2009 - 01:05

    What’s all this about meerkats?!?! They’re nothing but second-rate pretenders at this social animal game!!! Where’s the queen meerkat? And the workers and soldiers? What’s that? Oh, they’re not even eusocial, they just go about humping willy-nilly! Pah! No wonder they need babysitters!!!!!!!

    No no no… Molerats, MOLERATS are the true heirs to the world! Teeth in front of the lips for digging, none of that ugly hair to mess up, a natural immunity to capsaicin and acid… And a rigid social structure that would turn a tory green with envy (none of this hippy meerkat commune-stuff).

    I’m not entirely sure why this question of the week even needs to be asked. Pah!

  7. #7 by Andy on August 26, 2009 - 08:28

    I like Molerat’s answer. So he gets a “Just a Minute” point for a humorous challenge, but in my book the subject stays with ants. For all the reasons Colin Mentioned before selling his poxy and easily hijacked soul to the meerkat cute lobby.

    I also feel obliged to vote for monkeys in general because it’s 2 years this week since Perry DeAngelis of the SGU died.

  8. #8 by Stu on August 26, 2009 - 13:22

    You’re all wrong!! Mice are already the dominant species. Anyone who’s read that excellent peice of research called The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy knows that! Molerat’s right – It’s a daft question.

  9. #9 by Michael on August 26, 2009 - 20:58

    This is an interesting question. I notice that all respondents are culturally suck in the two dimensions of land (mammals and (non-flying)insects). How about crabs? They can be both independent and social, they have very useful appendages, can manipulate basic tools, some can even get on the property ladder (I don’t know if they have the equivalent of the Daily Mail yet or if they will evolve to use typesetting and hot metal printing). Crabs have been around for a long time and live in a variety of temperatures and geographic zones. They can live both on land and in the sea. Some earlier ones could fly, although not very well and not very far and they all died out (crashed). They have a monarchy (king crabs,- or is that a euphemism for a serious infection? I can’t seem to find out). Notwithstanding the evil octopuses, who attack our crab brothers and sisters, for no other reason than to look cool and pretend that they are hard. All crustaceans know that octopuses and squids look and act gay.

    Mind you octopuses are quite clever and can change colour and can live on land – this does require a small glass jar and a seaside store front with tressel tables and a misspelled sign. There you go I vote squid!

  10. #10 by Andy on August 27, 2009 - 01:45

    Crab can never dominate. They are too tasty and people will always want to eat them. Ditto squid.

  11. #11 by Yorkshireskeptic on August 31, 2009 - 13:42


    Don’t forget dolphins too! We may think we’re the most intelligent beings on this world but we’re actually the THIRD most intelligent!

    A civilisation of intelligent crabs are briefly encountered on the Earth by the wizards in one of the ‘Science of Discworld’ books. Therefore i vote for crabs! All hail our crustacean overlords!

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