Super-rats and cephalopods: the species that could conquer mankind – The Guardian

You watch any movie where human society is threatened with
or undergoes collapse, and assuming it’s not self-inflicted or some
natural calamity like asteroids (which
are a
real threat
) or mutating
(which really
), humans typically meet their doom at the hands of a more powerful
life form. These are typically advanced aliens (e.g. Independence Day), colossal
monsters (e.g. Pacific Rim, Godzilla)
or super-intelligent apes (e.g. take
a guess).
The general trend is that the life forms that destroy mankind are things that,
as far as we know, don’t exist in the real world.

So you could forgive the casual observer for thinking that
there are no existing species that pose a threat to human dominance. And you’d
be wrong (possibly dead wrong, in a worst-case scenario). There are several
familiar, even common species out there that, should they ever feel it
necessary, could pose a serious, perhaps lethal, threat to mankind. Species


rat close up
“Think you’re hard? You ain’t hard!”. Photograph: Alamy

There have been several stories
recently about super-rats
; rats much bigger and more resistant to poison
than “normal” rats. People are afraid of these rats, and some have explained
why they
shouldn’t be
, which is appropriate. That is, they shouldn’t be afraid of
super-rats specifically. People
should be wary of all rats in general. Rats are one of the few species that
give as good as they get from humans.

Rats, even if they
don’t grow to the size of livestock
, are not
to be trifled with
. They may be small, but they live in sewers, derelict
buildings, dumps; areas where a human would fall sick and die rapidly are where
rats thrive. Sure, maybe they didn’t
spread the Black Death via fleas
; they didn’t need to! If rats want to take
on humans, they’ll
do it themselves
, not use some parasite as a go-between. Lord knows, they
can develop
a taste for us

Also, rats are increasingly hard to kill. Bear in
mind that we’re regularly hearing about species that humans are inadvertently driving
to extinction
. In contrast, we have industries dedicated to
killing rats, and they’re not that good at it. Humans
giving rats special
doesn’t help.

I really like rats, but in the same way people like tigers;
respectfully, without wanting to tangle with them. Thanks to a rat I
know what one of my finger bones looks like
. Rats like to live near humans,
thanks to all the delicious waste we produce. But should they tire of us and
want to overthrow us, they stand a good chance. As far as I’m concerned, there’s
no such thing as a phobia of rats. Fearing rats is always rational.


Mosquito close up
“What’s that? A net? Ooooooh, I’m so scared”. Photograph: Redmond Durrell/Alamy

Mosquitos are small,
irritating bugs
. We are very familiar with them. Repelling
them is big business
, so common are they when people from colder countries
travel to warmer ones. For a tourist to return home from a hot location without
at least a few raised, red bumps signifying a mosquito bite and associated
scratching is quite unusual. All in all, the whiny little gits are irritants we’ve
all learned to put up with.

Also, they
kill more humans than any other animal
. See how annoying they are! You
could argue it’s the malaria
which is the killer, not the mosquito. Also, humans don’t kill
each other, it’s those little bits of lead travelling at high speed. Granted, a
single mosquito isn’t a physically impressive specimen. But it doesn’t need to
be! They reproduce
and in large quantities. They’re another species humans are
doing their best to actively
wipe out
, to little effect.

The problem is such that some scientists are using genetic
as a possible solution. Genetically engineering a plague carrier
to be released into the wild? Such a thing would be rejected as the plot of a
disaster movie for being “too obvious”. But that’s just needless “super-rat
style” scaremongering on my part. Mosquitos as they are carry plenty of
dangerous diseases
. But at least they’re restricted to warmer, wetter
locations. As long as we don’t make the whole planet warmer and wetter, we

Cuttlefish, and other

Cuttlefish up close
“What are you looking at? If you can call it that with those feeble, shoddy eyes”. Photograph: William Warby/flickr

Cephalopods are generally an impressive, unnervingly
range of creatures. I only emphasise cuttlefish because:

1. XKCD has already
flagged up how dangerous they could be

2. They have the weird
“W-shaped” eyes
. Also, cephalopod retinas are arranged “correctly”,
with the light-sensing retina in front of the associated nerves and vessels, not
behind it like in humans and vertebrates, meaning no blind-spots and the like.
The eye is often cited as proof
of intelligent design
, so the cephalopod eye is proof of more intelligent design. So if ID is
true, then whoever created us put more effort into the cephalopods than humans,
suggesting that if it comes down a fight he/she’d be on their side.

3. Cuttlefish ink could be used in electrodes for internal
medical devices

4. I saw a freshly-caught cuttlefish in a tank
while in Malaysia. It took an instant dislike to me, squirting ink. It clearly
could see that I was suspicious of it and was alarmed that I’d rumbled their
plans. What other interpretation is there?

But even without all of this, cephalopods are formidable. Efficient predators,
incredibly stealthy, possibly psychic? Of course, we’ve
nothing to fear from them as we inhabit completely different environments. As
long as mankind doesn’t stupidly cause sea
levels to rise
, we’ll be fine.


Crow in flight
“Enjoy the view. It’ll be the last thing you ever see”. Photograph: Alamy

What’s wrong with crows? They’re a bit ominous
perhaps, but they’re just harmless, everyday birds. Birds that are frighteningly
. Birds that make tools, tools to get other tools. THEY

In fairness, this seems to be a feature of the Corvid
. It is said that when the ravens leave the tower of London, England will fall.
What they don’t say is that it will actually fall to the ravens, who have gone
off to lead the conquest of humanity. The Corvids alone will be enough of a
threat, but if they can persuade the pigeons and seagulls to join them (and
with their smarts, that’s a definite risk) then we’ll be overwhelmed within


wasp close up
“I don’t even like ice cream, I just enjoy the sound of a child’s screams”. Photograph: imagebroker/Alamy

It is often said that in the event of a nuclear war, the
only thing left will be cockroaches. But that’s sadly not true; cockroaches
aren’t that much more resistant to radiation than we are. You know what
creature is incredibly resistant to radiation, though? A
type of wasp

This probably won’t surprise anyone. If presented with the
option of using nuclear ordinance to get rid of the vicious,
, voodoo-mastering,
picnic-ruining, child-antagonising scourge of the air that is the wasp, they’d
probably think it worth the risk. So of course, wasps would scorn our mightiest
of world-ending weapons. And let’s be honest, when faced with a
swarm of Asian Giant Hornets
, atomic retaliation wouldn’t even seem that

I’ve listed several species that could destroy mankind, but
wasps seem like the only ones who would want
to. Not only could they survive a nuclear war, they’re the most likely to start

Feel free to leave further suggestions for would-be conqueror
species in the comments.

Dean Burnett lives in
a carefree state of denial about the eventual destruction of civilisation, as
evidenced by his Twitter feed, @garwboy

Super-rats and cephalopods: the species that could conquer mankind – The Guardian
rats – Google News
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