15-Page Treatise on Potential Outcomes of a Human vs. Animal War

by Nate St. Pierre on February 12, 2012

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If you want to initiate a hotly contested discussion, just ask a question like this – the results are always fascinating. Transcript below is taken from an email discussion with me and some work friends a few years ago.

It’s a long read, but a fun one. And even if you don’t get to the bottom, I’d love to see you guys extend the conversation in the comments. Who do you think wins???

QUESTION
If all the animals of the world suddenly, and of one accord, decided to attack the human race in a full-scale war, who would win, and how long would it take? (We can assume that the animals retain the communication abilities normal to their species, i.e., dogs/wolves will hunt in packs, bees and ants can make a chemical trail to follow, etc. Any animals that do not normally communicate will just start attacking the first people they can find.)

Nate
No doubt the animals would win. Humans are obviously more intelligent, and could find ways to construct defenses and attacks, but it’s hard to work on an anti-black widow chemical while you’re being mauled by a bear. The animals would probably have all but a handful of the 6 billions humans wiped out within a year. The remaining survivors would of course be on isolated islands, where all they would have to fend off would be finches and snakes. Of course, the insects would probably still get ‘em eventually, but it might take a while.

Owen
There are SO many considerations, but I say humans win. Does this war start at the most opportune time for humans?  Like right now, there are many fewer insects in the northern hemisphere than there would usually be.  And we’ve harvested all our food already, so we don’t have to worry about our food supply for a little while (months).  But yeah, I’d say food and water are the main considerations.  I don’t think this little war will have much to do with being directly attacked.  I think humans could handle all direct attacks pretty easily, including insects.  (If 1 in 100 people had bug zappers, things would go pretty fast.  And sure, 10 quintillion insects is a LOT of insects.  But they’re really, really, really stupid.  If you set up a football field-sized bug zapper, you’d take out a few billion in the first five minutes alone…given that they’re driven to attack you, you could pretty much funnel them straight into a death trap indefinitely.  Just set up some scarecrows that exhale CO2, and insects would happily kill themselves forever trying to get at them.  And, in fact, insects attacking us at the expense of trying to feed themselves that might be just the thing that would save our food supply.  The locusts would be so busy attacking us (and dying en masse at the hands of our bug zappers) that our crops would be relatively untouched…and then we could eat them.)  I’d say the first thing we should do is get some food-chain scientists to figure out what we should kill.  I’d say, take out the top and the bottom but who knows what they’d say.  They’ve spent so much time figuring out how to save wildlife, it would probably be pretty easy to undermine it.  And will animals attack each other for food themselves?  Because that’s another consideration.  I mean, an aardvark is an aardvark, is an aardvark.  So there go the termites…And how badly will the animals want to kill us?  Will cows stampede through their electric fences to get to us or will they just harbor more resentment?

Mario
You’re including insects, which aren’t animals. However, say that we are including insects, no doubt that humans would be done for. There are an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 quintillion) insects in the world. Add that to the number of animals that are bigger than us, and say goodnight. Not including the insects, however…it would be a closer fight. I think humans could prevail in that situation, with heavy casualties.

Alex
I think humans would win. Most animals already spend the bulk of their time simply trying to survive. Were they to start attacking humans many would starve to death, or perish outside of their natural environment. And although they could communicate through natural means, they would still be lacking any real sort of strategy. Finally, humans just love to kill things. We’ve already eradicated several species entirely without even trying. I’m sure we could kill them all if we wanted. Of course, with all the animals extinct, we would also die. I say we just kill the sharks.  

Australia has me worried. Australia has more deadly snakes and spiders per square mile than anywhere else on Earth. Snakes can live for a long time without eating or drinking. They also have crocs, which are pretty tough to kill. And they don’t have a large number of armaments.

Nate
Australia would be wiped out in two weeks. No question.

Alex 
Then think about China and India. The population is so dense, how could the animals stand a chance?

Nate 
Because you can’t fight everything all at once. Different things require different tactics. There is absolutely no way to kill mass quantities of birds in the cities without harming the people, so you have to kill them one at a time, which would take up a lot of time and energy. And while you’re distracted with that, anything else can come kill you. Not to mention our food/water supply would dwindle, because most people would be in a state of panic, and they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. Our civilization would immediately fall into chaos, and we would be wiped out.

Owen 
No way to kill mass quantities of birds, huh?  See, I think we could use the ridiculousness of this situation to our complete advantage.  How about put out a heavily-protected decoy human (and 20-person detachment) inside an airplane hanger.  Give them guns and what-not to take care of the bears, dogs, and large carnivores and let all of the snakes, birds, bugs, and whatever else come in and just flock around.  And then, when they can’t stand it anymore, close the doors, fill the whole thing with poisonous gas, bulldoze the entire thing out, and repeat.

I’m not worried about sea creatures at ALL.  Just put a humungous sonar machine on every ship and watch the whales, octopi, and sharks beach themselves instantly.  The defense department accidentally did that once with “great success.”  Other stuff?  Eh…Noooooo problems…So we can’t go in the oceans because of the jelly fish…I’m not worried…We just have to worry about keeping shipping lanes open, and things will be fine.

The first few days are going to suck, but it will really slow down after the first month or so.  Just in time to kill all the insects when they hatch…Or maybe we’ll have poisoned their eggs…

Poison and electromagnetic traps for the insects.  (Have you seen those electric-field tennis rackets?  They’re a dollar.  You push a button, wave them through a cloud of bugs, and they all die instantly from having their little nervous systems fried.)  Poison for birds and rodents.  Guns for large carnivores.

Small rodents, like rats, give me the most problems right now…Poison would be best, I think.  Then food traps…

The most hilarious thing in my head right now is thinking that every parent on the planet will have to explain to their children why they had to kill their pets.

I think humans have the greatest advantage in that the animals are coming to “get” them…actively and stupidly…So we just sit there killing, and killing, and killing, and killing, and killing, and killing, and killing.  How long would that last?  Two weeks of nothing but defending your house…The worst stuff would die first…Carnivores…The rest would be a nuisance for a while…Cows getting loose, birds dive bombing us to no avail…And then when the bears come out of hibernation and the insects hatch, we go at it for another round…

And then I have to imagine at some point that there’d be some sort of peace treaty. 

Nate 
Argh. I’ve wasted too much of this day already discussing this. But you know what we should do? Me and Mario vs. Owen and Alex. Two animal guys vs. two human guys. Everyone do some research, bring some reports, some spreadsheets, and we’ll fight it out.

There is no way humans win. None. Our entire system would be in chaos. We’d have no power, no food, no fresh water – we’d die.

Owen 
I disagree…We’d have nothing BUT food, we’d have enough animal hides to keep us warm for an eternity, I don’t know why wewouldn’t have fresh water (if we didn’t, all the animals would die, too)…

And, after the first two days, when all the animals of the world have congregated in the world’s major cities and things are at a relative stalemate, we would wait it out…Noooo problem…It won’t be comfortable, but if we ate the family dog, and then ate our canned food slowly, we could easily last a few weeks.  (The water WOULD keep flowing…Why would animals attack the water supply station…Just don’t have any visible humans there, and why would the animals attack it?  And if this happened in the winter, we’d have PLENTY of snow to go around.)  The animals would start to starve, they’d start to eat themselves, we’d laugh, we’d come outside, shoot the rest, and then figure out a way to kill the insects in the spring.

Nate 
Our food and water supply would be disrupted because there would be mass chaos, and people wouldn’t be going about their daily jobs.

Alex 
True, but a lot of people would be dying, so we’d need less food and water. Actually we’re pretty lucky in Wisconsin, we have the lake nearby, providing us with tons of fresh water, although it should probably be boiled first. The lake is filled with a lot of fish, but they could only do damage in large numbers. And fish wouldn’t necessarily be able to rationalize that a boat in the water meant that there were humans inside. Nor would they necessarily realize that humans would only be found near the shorelines. Sharks are smart, as are whales and dolphins, so they might be able to figure it out, but most fish probably wouldn’t. Lake Michigan might be a pretty good place to be near when this all goes down.

Nate
I’ll give you that . . . we’re in a good location. But there aren’t enough troops to go around, and most people would be holed up in their houses, not out there waging war with every Tom, Dick and Harry squirrel and crow that comes his way. And then comes summertime, and watch out for the bugs. I just cannot fathom winning this war. Not even a little bit.

Mario 
One thing you guys also have forgotten about is human enemies. This is anarchy at it’s finest… if you did have guns, or a car, or food or water or gasoline, you’d also have to worry about fending off jerks who wouldn’t think twice about killing you to build their supplies. And humans are smarter than fish.

Nate 
Yeah, Mario! I see so much hysteria and lawlessness – I don’t see us all working as one to defeat a common enemy. I know it worked in Independence Day, but this ain’t the movies…

Mario 
Honestly, this is Dawn of the Dead. Just replace the undead with about twenty thousand times more animals, all with totally different ways of killing you. We would be screwed.

Nate 
See, Alex? Now it’s twenty thousand animals all on you at once!

Alex 
I think the question is too vague. The way I understood it, the animals will have one goal and one goal alone, to kill humans. They will not stop to eat or drink or reproduce. They will just try and kill humans. Also, they will retain their normal senses. Which means there will be no strategy, no super strength or sight or hearing or smelling. Are people thinking differently than this?

Nate 
I wasn’t thinking about it exactly like that. My thought is that it’s just their strongest urge, besides eating and reproducing. In other words, when they’re not doing something essential to survival, they’re attacking us.

Alex 
Well, this causes problems, most notably with such things as insects. Every second of a bee’s life it is working towards the survival of its species. Attacking every human they see would be the exact opposite of its goal. I mean, ants wouldn’t stop bringing food to the next just to attack us, unless we were directly threatening the nest. Other animals, especially domesticated ones, would have free time to attack us. But many wild ones would be too involved with their own survival.

Owen 
So basically, life…
We’ve already won this fight…

Mario 
Man, you guys are being difficult and not seeing the whole point of this. Right now, as we know it, they don’t have the drive to outwardly attack us. Rabbits run from us, today. What if they, and every single other animal, even the ones that already try to attack us, had the drive to go out of their way to turn against us. They wouldn’t necessarily put it in front of survival, but if they ate a human, they wouldn’t have to eat their insects or leaves or whatever. And, they could raid our fridges after they kill us… so herbivores could still have their vegetable if needed.

Owen 
Not trying to be difficult…

In this scenario, humans would probably hide…Nate even said that…So let’s say that we could hide for 3 weeks…Some would starve, some would run out and try to fight the animals, but a good chunk would stay indoors and eat their Halloween candy.  And, if the animals are actively trying to seek us out, they’re going to come to the larger cities.  Where they’ll encounter each other…And that’s not going to be pretty for the rabbits…

And whatever, mf…You’re the one who brought up that humans would fight themselves for resources…So what, bears and rabbits will lick each other clean and then kiss?

Alex 
Good point. Here’s what we need to decide, which is the stronger urge, killing humans or surviving? And how much stronger is that urge?

Owen 
Alex has a good point…This IS about the strength of the urge…

I think what’s interesting is how closely we’re about to approximate real life…

When I play with my dog, my dog is actually trying to kill me…But he knows that if he tried, I would actually kill him.
So there’s this beautiful stand off…I get a pet, and he gets food…And nobody kills each other…

So this is completely about the strength of the urge…Because that urge is there already…But everything knows where they stand, and we’re all just in a peaceful cold war…

If this were just some fake scenario where we were locked in a metal room, naked humans on one side, animals-with-a-desire-to-only-kill-humans on the other, this would be much less interesting…I’d pick the animals in a heartbeat…

Another interesting thing is that the stronger the urge to kill humans gets, the easier all of the animals will die…They’ll congregate more quickly, they’ll get hungry more quickly, they’ll eat each other more quickly, we’ll go outside, kill the carnivores with guns, and then we’ll figure out a way to kill the insects in the spring…

And dude…insects?  How many bee keeper suits do you think China could pump out in a month (in an underground bunker somewhere)?  BILLIONS…

And I feel like I’ve covered this ground before, but have you seen those bug zappers that are shaped like a tennis racket?  Just set up a football field-sized one of those and put a bright neon light in the middle.

Mario 
We’re talking all the animals that exist, including insects. It’ll be hard to shoot a polar bear with trillions of birds trying to peck your eyes out while you do it. There’s no where to hide that some animal or insect can’t get into. And if they’re trying to kill us, we’re screwed.

You guys are missing the point that they’re trying to kill us. Trying. And for some things like scorpions and spiders and snakes and shit, all it can take is one bite.

Monkey, alligators, roaches, fire ants, flying squirrels, butterflies, doesn’t Owener. We’d be screwed.

Ken
But this entire thing isn’t even a feasible question because the vast majority of animals and I’ll wager ALL INSECTS wouldn’t be able to unite in some sort of mass attack on everyone seeing as they lack anything but the most basic of basic intelligence.

Best care scenario: some weird animal/insect-only disease spreads the globe turning the feral so they’d become super aggressive and hunt down whatever they could, but they would attack ANYTHING in their path.  Even granting the unthinkable notion that they’d unite species-wide, it still wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Say, how well did all those millions upon millions of buffalo out west do against us in the 1800s?

Mario 
The things is, they wouldn’t have to organize. I understand your point about insects not being intelligent and having strategy, and that’s fine, but if they’re driven to attack us, the same way mosquitoes are driven to bite us, and bees to sting us if provoked, they’d kill. 20 million people alive today will die from mosquitoes alone. And that’s just with mosquitoes being mosquitoes.

Buffalo that aren’t trying to kill you are easier to shoot than a swarm of killer bees.

Ken 
I dunno man…I really think with a few gas masks and a couple million gallons of Sarin gas, we’d come out on top.

We’d all die because everything else would dead, but at least we died at our own hands instead of some pussy ass bees, My Girl style.

Nate 
Also, how can the two of you be so foolish? Do you have any idea how many pounds of animal there are for every pound of human??? They win by sheer numbers alone. They have enough in the ranks to just throw bodies at us until we suffocate from sheer mass. Every one of us.

Sam 
No way. You can’t tell me that how every many millions of pounds of animal flesh could break into NORAD before the Air Force starts playing Space Invaders with their nukes.

Ken 
Exactly.  Technology and intelligence win out over brute force and numbers every time.  I mean, look at the Cold War.

Sam 
Plus if we could bunker down and wait it out it’d be cool. The animals would be so consumed with attacking us that they’d forget to be true to their survival instincts and die. That or the dumbass prey that decided they were going to get in on the action would get whipped out by all the other predators waiting at the door of the bunker and the food chain would collapse. Game. Set. Match.

Nate 
Don’t forget that we’re at the top of that food chain, son. It’s hard to slaughter 100,000 cows a day when every cow is trying to kill you. We’d be relegated to already-canned goods, what little meat we could manage, and any vegetables we could grow without being killed while trying to harvest it.

Ken 
You mean, it’d be pretty much the same way it is now then?

You think cows aren’t already trying to kill us each and every day?  HAVE YOU BEEN IN A BARN BEFORE?  Mariot, I almost suffocated on the 98.7% methane environment they’d created for themselves.

Owen 
Ex-mf-actly…Life on this globe is one gargantuan, uneasy truce as is…

Are we on the same page that it’s the insects that would kill us?  Ken…Sam…Shall we list off the ways to kill bugs en masse?

I’ll go first.

Giant bug zappers.
Raid

Sam 
We could construct a REALLY big shoe or a giant rolled up newspaper.

Nate
It is so ridiculous to even suggest that you could remotely even think about coming anywhere near killing any decent percentage of all the bugs that would come your way.

Ken
You’re right.  How would we ever conceive a way to kill these magnificent beasts that can’t be tricked by a mere 40w light bulb?!?!!

Mario 
You could kill a good number, but not all of them.

And not every bug can be killed with a bug zapper. It doesn’t work on most, in fact. Just the pesky flying ones. So… 

Sam 
No, I don’t mean to hang them, just pile em up. That way the crawly ones would get theirs too.

Nate 

  • Recent figures indicate that there are more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet! A recent article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans.

Let’s say that only 1% of those bugs are anywhere near where they can get to a human being. That still means that for every human on earth, there are 2 million insects trying their best to kill you, and only you, right now. And that’s just the insects. There is absolutely no way on god’s green earth that you can succeed against that.

Ken
That’s lovely.  But you keep talking about this relentless desire to kill us.  A desire that, due to their complete lack of intellect (that still exists even if this bloodlust overrides their inborn instincts) means that we have the ultimate advantage.  Going back to my Mt. Dew idea for hornets.  They aren’t smart (at all) enough to ignore that because of their vendetta against us because they have no logic or reasoning abilities.

We win because they’re ultimately too stupid to win.

Mario 
I wonder how many of us would simply go insane. Remember when you were flailing around like a madman when that little butterfly was flying past you outside? You’d go nuts. I bet I would too.

Ken
Flailing about like a madman?  I jumped in surprise when it flew into my face.  Excuse me for being human and showing emotion when something unexpected and sudden happens to me.

Mario 
Yeah, but you were watching it and commented as it came back, too. You didn’t trust that little butterfly. And it wasn’t even trying to hurt you. Yet.

Ken
I’ll keep sticking my fingers in your face at random times the next time I see you in order to study your reaction to having your personal space unexpectedly invaded.

Mario 
I already said "I would probably go crazy too," below. Just proving a point.

Sam
Sounds like we’re all DUN on this one. I’m going to have to hang on to this one. Good work.

Mario 
Yep. Dun.

(insects would win)

Nate 
DUN

Ken 
Done.

Owen 
Done.  (The mosquitoes and flies are killed while waving. Heh.)

Ken 
I’m glad we all agreed on one thing: Australia is fucked.

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  • Whyshifty

    I vote humans. The thing I would be most afraid of would be the squirrels… It would be hard to kill just one attacking you!

    • http://twitter.com/NateStPierre Nate St. Pierre

      Squirrels ARE crazy – I lived with a few when my room was up in the attic during high school.

  • Careyturley

    i’ll chime in. humans would win because they are ruthless. animals only kill to defend or survive. humans kill for pleasure.

  • Peliroo Corrice

    Read this again for fun.   :)  Animals win.  We humans are cursed with hubristic tendencies.  Without cell phones and digital interfaces few of us would survive.  Our pride would destroy any hierarchical structure that would allow for an organized offensive.  Also, we don’t even have enough fur to survive the first apocalyptic winter.  (Well, most of us.  I’m kinda furry.  I might last til November.) 

  • http://crappypictures.com/ Amber

    “You didn’t trust that little butterfly. And it wasn’t even trying to hurt you. Yet.” Attacking butterflies. This is why it needs to be a movie. 

    • http://twitter.com/NateStPierre Nate St. Pierre

      You and I will be the first in line for the Animals vs. Humans movie, with more special effects than Transformers. Hellz yeah!

  • http://twitter.com/alexandertopsoe Alexander Topsøe

    Okay, so i had a dream about this scenario last night and it got me thinking about it. I discovered your debate on the subject and this is my thoughts:
    Yes, the scenario is, that the animals decided to get rid of us humans as we are destroying the planet. They wouldn’t necessarily line up as an army, but just go for humans whenever they could.

    The thing that kept bothering me was, why wouldn’t the animals go after each other. BUT they wouldn’t bc how often does that really happen? I mean animals kills for food, and now that there plenty of dead human to go around. Spontaneous fights between animals? Sure, but nothing to undermine their attack.
    Second thing that bothered me. The insects. what can they do? How would a butterfly kill a man? it couldn’t. But if a 1000 attack at the same time, man wouldn’t just stand still, he would run for cover. And inside that cover? SWARMED with other insects. This man would go insane, even if the animals was “harmless”.
    This is how the insects fight, by just being around, and if the numbers are true, man wouldn’t be around this home anymore, he would flee to the big citys.

    Okay, so now this is the first major strategic play, the animals would do, even if they didn’t know it themselfs. Man is in the city, animals rule the lands of agriculture, suburbs, forrest etc.
    But what now? Now the rats come into play.

    There are SO many of them and they a so dangerous, full of disease, you get ill from a single bite. And the flying bugs would keep attacking whenever outside, plus big animals would storm the street, man would try to keep them out, but then birds attack from above. it’s an insane situation to be in for all humans!

    We would try to kill a bunch, and be somewhat succesful, but in the long run – in the end – man would go down.

    So we flee to the cold, inhabitable parts of the earths, and still we are getting attacked by the animals there. But we could fight them off, and live in misery for a very long time, until the inevitable happens: our civilization would eat it self – as all civilizations do in the end.

    Man would be gone and animals would rule the earth until the sun explodes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ireneshyz Irene 爱仪 Zhang

    Couple of points to take into consideration:
    1) Birds, dolphins, octopi, most mammals all have intellegence. Humans are not alone in having a sophisticated brain.
    2) Parts of population will become insane (because the spot as top predator is beig challenged).
    3) The continuous argument about using poison or bug spray: it may work to a certain extent, but then natural selection takes place and a new strain of indestructible bugs/animal…(Bugs are animals, so are sponges and oysters, etc. High school biology curriculum)
    4) Yes, we have weapons of mass destruction. Are we going to kill millions of humans to kill the animals? How many humans have access to these weapons (guns, poison gas, bombs)?
    5) We cannot kill all the animals because we cannot live without them. They can live without us.
    I come to the conclusion that in order to win the war against animals, a large proportion of humans are going to die. The mentally and physically weak first, then the socially and strategically weak (fellow humans competing for resource), and what we have left is a race of homo sapiens capable in all survival aspects. I do not believe humans will lose entirely, only to be driven back to the form we were before using our opposable thumbs to dominate every other species on the planet.

  • Murphy Ketake

    if I could transfer all my consciousness knowledge to give the animals a fair strategy and put things on an even playing field…animals would win. (first they take out all your government systems which you can barely live without someone telling you what to do or how to do it). ? unless humans want to feed off other humans? shit we go around following orders we don’t even agree with. Thousands of people shop at Wal-Mart daily and thousands of people wish they could have everything free…yet thousands of people do as they are told and pay or leave empty handed. Then go back to work for the little they can’t afford and you expect humans to survive an all out animal kingdom war and win on default of bug spray? I agree with Irene Zhang a race of homo sapiens capable in all survival aspects and we be driven back to the form we were before using our opposable thumbs to dominate every other species on the planet…that is a correct outcome of an all out animal war or close to it. In fact that might not even happen…could be worse…the extinction of humans completely who knows. yeah…lets talk about killing all the animals…what genius had this bright idea of a question floating around in their head?

  • mike

    you all forgot about the nasty diseases that insects/rodents carry such as the plague carried by fleas. plague is highly contageous.

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