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It is the near future and insectoid aliens pass our planet. They are shocked and dismayed to find that disgusting fleshy creatures seem to be in charge.

Using their alien technology they imbue all of the insects on earth with swarm intelligence. This creates one enormous distributed super intelligent being.

The terrestrial insects realise that humans have for centuries been destroying them on a whim, treating them as pests or merely exploiting them. They decide to wage war.

Recent figures indicate that there are more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet. An article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans. Lists of organisms by population

Question

Given that each of us is outweighed 300 times, they could simply swarm over us and suffocate us.

We have only our present day technology and certainly no magic, nor understanding of the alien technology or even what happened. Can the human race survive?

With no notice that this was going to happen, is there any way of fighting back?

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  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that Worm is a story that centers on a girl whose superpower is controlling bugs (including spiders). She manages to use it very effectively against other superhumans with much more powerful powers, using only the bugs available within a few city blocks. So, in the end, the answer would be the same as the other answers: the human race loses badly. $\endgroup$ – El'endia Starman Aug 17 '15 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Biggest problem comes from almost any coordinated attack. Every road/rail/airport/shipping lane on Earth would almost immediately be clogged with wrecks. Total chaos from that alone could collapse civilization in a day or so. No chance to recover since all homes/offices would be pre-"buggy"-trapped w/wasps/hornets/fire ants before the outdoor attack began. Run inside? Nope. Various semi-safe havens could exist, but how long? And then what? If insects merely left the region around any haven, things would go badly eventually. And who would figure what happened, what to do? $\endgroup$ – user2338816 Aug 18 '15 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ If ticks are physiologically capable of putting blood from their digestive system back into a host, then they could be MVPs in the war. They can live for years, intelligently ride hosts around the world, and potentially spread any disease. They could even potentially make it into space, Antarctic research stations, and other harsh places. Given proper planning to prevent humans from knowing what's going on until it's too late, intelligent ticks alone could possibly wipe out the whole human race. $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Aug 18 '15 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Your update deserves it's own question to get good answers. $\endgroup$ – Mast Aug 18 '15 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ If your quote is correct "300 pounds of insects for every pound of human". And you consider that the average human weighs about 62 kg or about 135 lbs. For every human there are over 70,000 lbs of insects. Creepy! $\endgroup$ – user11864 Aug 7 '17 at 14:47
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Can the human race survive?

No.

We're too dependent on them for our survival.


An open attack would hurt them - we'd just insecticide them. That's not a good strategic move by the bugs. Not a good strategic move by us either, but the choice is stand idly by and get suffocated by a million crawly feet, or destroy the ecology and possibly survive.

The insects would kill us by not servicing the food chain... correction... by not servicing our food chain. They'd starve us out of existence.

To hurry the process along, they'd actively start eating our food reserves at the same time. Locusts will eat our crops. Mosquitoes drinking grazing livestock dry. Bees stop pollinating flowers.

Humanity most certainly would notice something funky is going on. Food shortages. Price hikes. Economic instability. We'd be too busy trying to fill our bellies to unite and fight the insect-war.

To make matters worse, the bug hive-mind could play us against ourselves. For any two adjoining countries that really don't like each other, starve one but not the other. Wars will be waged out of desperation(read:hunger), pre-emptive action, or opportunistic attempts to get rid of people you don't like.

Once the governments have collapsed, there will be no organised resistance to the insect war. This is when they smother us.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting take on the situation. I like the fact that you are seeing it from the point of view of the insects! $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Aug 16 '15 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ > Mosquitoes drinking grazing livestock dry That would actually take a surprisingly large number - mosquitoes can't take that much blood. $\endgroup$ – Bob Aug 17 '15 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt any such strategy could be sustained for long enough to impact the human population significantly more than it impacts the bug population. The strength of a locust swarm depends on local food sources, but humans can import food from across the planet, for one example. A beehive that refuses to interact with pollen won't last very long at all, either. As for people not noticing: entymologists are pretty observant, such drastic changes in well-documented behaviors would be very quickly noticed and shared (with great excitement) to the scientific community. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Aug 17 '15 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ I feel that this answer badly needs real evidence that speaks to the concerns brought up by @talrnu. As is, it’s pure speculation that might be plausible but lacks sufficient back-up to confirm that it is. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Aug 17 '15 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ I think if it were possible for a population of mosquitos to drink livestock local to them dry, it would already be happening. Likewise with locusts eating enough crops to cause starvation. It's not like real world unintelligent insects are holding back on their feeding habits currently. Intelligently spreading diseases (mostly by mosquitos, ticks, and fleas) would probably be more effective. $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Aug 18 '15 at 19:55
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Game Over, Humans Lose

Our countermeasures against insects works because they aren't coordinated. Much of what we do to prevent exposure of our bodies, food and assets works against specific pests. Screens over doors and windows work against mosquitos and other biting insects. Pesticides prevent crop destruction.

But, all of the things that we defend against can be undermined by a determined effort by a combination of species. (I'm going to focus my efforts on North American ecologies because those are the ones I know best.)

Bees

The easiest will be if the bees just stop pollinating crops. Without pollination, the world's food supply collapses in a matter of years. Perhaps sooner, if other insects and contaminate and destroy existing food supplies.

Termites

A great deal of the protection that we enjoy against insects comes from our buildings, specifically about 128 million wood-frame homes. Wood frame structures are ripe for attack by termites. Termites driven by a coordinating intelligence could avoid the bait and traps that we already place and focus their attacks on the structural wood. Attacks like this will require several months to execute so it may take a while before we humans see any results.

Flying insects

There are bees, wasps, and hornets everywhere. Generally they keep to themselves but if directed they could make an impressive area denial weapon. Attacking and stinging people as they leave their homes before they can reach their cars. Children will be kept indoors and people will leave only when absolutely necessary. Food shortages will start for people who go food shopping every day or every other day.

Mosquitoes are also an effective area denial weapon. Any flying insect, if there are enough of them can plug up the air intakes for automobiles or tractor trailers. Cleaning those filters is annoying and slows down the movement of goods.

Ants

Ants are capable of getting into very tightly enclosed places and chewing on things that shouldn't be chewed on. They are also capable of moving large quantities of earth, so it's possible that they could actually undermine the foundations of buildings. Attacks like this would still take time but perhaps not as much as expected.

Direct Attacks on Humans

Many insects have a painful or poisonous bite. With a swarm of attacks on a human, particularly the elderly or very young, biting insects can cause extreme illness or death. Ants can strip human bodies down to the bone.

Insects may not be able to kill every person but they could destroy infrastructure and crops that would prevent humans from eating.

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    $\begingroup$ Bees can't just go on strike without also starving themselves. $\endgroup$ – 200_success Aug 17 '15 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ many crops are wind pollinated - like wheat crops. structural wood is treated with arsenic and a few other chemicals which prevent termites eating. $\endgroup$ – Ross Aug 17 '15 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ @200_success i think they can. They don't need to stop pollinating everything. It is enough if they stop pollinating our crops, but still make use of wild flowers and such. $\endgroup$ – Burki Aug 17 '15 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Add to that a coordinated effort of disease-carrying insects (assuming they can be made aware that they are carrying diseases)...While not always deadly, West Nile Virus, Malaria, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, etc. can seriously impair a large swath of humanity. $\endgroup$ – Seth Aug 17 '15 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, almost all staple crops (wheat, oats, rice, barley, potatoes, corn/maize) are wind pollinated or non-pollinated. Life without them would be less pleasant , but life would go on. We'd lose a lot of fruits, and a few vegetables, but we would be able to survive. $\endgroup$ – Wad Cheber Aug 18 '15 at 1:23
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There are some areas of the world in which most insects would have a hard time surviving -- deserts and near the poles. Though of course in the sub-artic regions midges seem to do pretty well every summer. A few humans could probably hold out in the arctic sustained by fishing etc. (i.e. traditional Inuit would be OK). There might be large enough oases in the desert to support agriculture (not insect-pollinated of course) while still being far enough from more hospitable regions to provide a barrier to significant swarms.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a very good point. I hadn't thought of geographically safe places. I suppose humans could survive indefinitely as long as they could get a reasonable diet and provided global warming didn't change the Earth's climate. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Aug 17 '15 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ Great point. There are places we can go where bugs really can't effectively (although I think H.G. Wells talked about ants learning to sail, which could put a damper on human survival). $\endgroup$ – Josiah Aug 17 '15 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ And the oceans. Which are only 71% of the world. $\endgroup$ – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Aug 17 '15 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ We can gain some shelter in places like this, but how would we feed ourselves for an extended time, let alone have the resources for a counter attack? $\endgroup$ – wedstrom Aug 19 '15 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ @wedstrom, the population that could be fed in these circumstances is very small. I didn't consider a counter attack. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Aug 19 '15 at 17:11
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Well our bug bombs are pretty effective. We have chemicals that are extremely deadly and can be deployed from the air, from canisters or even by hand.

The initial attack would cause trouble. Assume massive human losses at the start. The bugs will have complications crossing the oceans, giving humans time to prepare. Once the pest killing machine gets rolling, the bugs don't really stand up very well.

If these bug aliens didn't interfere, then we would probably eliminate the mass without need for nukes or what have you. Even standard bombs and missiles would cause tons of damage anyway, the shock waves alone would nearly triple their potential if not more.

From there, the bigger problem is all the bugs are gone. The food chain is shot, animals die that rely on them for food. A great many species would also disappear or at least be crippled from the event. Maybe this was the aliens goal all along.

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    $\begingroup$ Given that Gill Gates with all his money and influence says, "We Can Eradicate Malaria—Within a Generation" ---> gatesnotes.com/Health/Eradicating-Malaria-in-a-Generation ---> I don't think we have much chance of killing all the insects in the world in a few days or weeks. As you say, we'd also devastate the food chain. Is there some way we can keep the benficial insects only? In any case the ecosystem is going to be shot to pieces. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Aug 16 '15 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK - The point is they want to eradicate malaria. not the mosquitoes. $\endgroup$ – Ross Aug 17 '15 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK We very nearly did wipe out malaria, by very nearly wiping out mosquitoes in Africa, and DDT didn’t take a generation. The collateral damage was enormous (we also very nearly wiped out many species of bird, for example), and we pulled back before the damage (to malaria and mosquitoes, or to birds) was permanent. If absolutely necessary, though, we could go back to using DDT – and use it much more aggressively. As Ross says, the “within a generation” claim is specifically to removing malaria without wrecking the rest of the environment. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Aug 17 '15 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @algiogia Considering it's basically war as far as the question was concerned, we would be using much stronger stuff since it's either us or them. Safe pesticides are one thing, but the other stuff? Deadly even to humans. $\endgroup$ – Nonafel Aug 18 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @KRyan, Actually, the research that linked DDT to the thinning of bird shells was flawed. A bird researcher with a large collection of shells going back a century discovered that the thinning of bird shells predated the invention of DDT, so there must have been another cause. Even one of the founders of Greenpeace admitted that the toxicity experiments done on DDT were seriously flawed. Sixty million people are dead because we banned DDT because of flawed, politicized science. $\endgroup$ – Paul Chernoch Aug 18 '15 at 18:41
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Get them fighting eachother.

Seriously, this is the kind of "what if" that doesn't go well for the question in search of answers. You have created an enemy that is:

  • Far smarter than us
  • Far stronger than us
  • Out masses us by several orders of magnitude
  • Hates us
  • Has no weak point, because it is so diffused
  • Already has control of the entire globe

These sorts of bad guys always pose ill for the question being asked. Taking on the infinitely strong bad guy never seems to work, short of asking Morgan Fre--- I mean "God" for a reset.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to simply leave the humans out of the equation. Whatever the solution is, over 99.9% of it is going to need to be implemented by the only entity that matters: the bugs. We could almost ignore the humans entirely and get to our final result. The humans can only pull strings in the background.

Our best bet is to get our special forces hats on. Instead of trying to combat the bugs, we need to turn them against each other. The special forces are trained to train others to fight... we'll need to do that here.

Step 1: Learn whatever language the bugs know. They clearly have one, because they're communicating. We're going to need to learn to talk

Step 2: Reawaken whatever primal feuds we can manage. The most important is probably the feud between ants and termites. As long as they are infighting, we might stand a chance.

Step 3: Spiders are scary. People are scared of spiders. Hmm... there probably should be instructions in step 3, but it seemed more apropos to point out that a reasonable portion of the human population is going to freak the bleep out in the first 2 hours of the assault. We might want to stock up on Thorazine to subdue the arachnaphobic. I'm just saying.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is already war between insects (and spiders), many of them prey on others and use them for food. I don't think they would all be occupied with fighting us. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Aug 16 '15 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ Spiders aren't insects, they're arachnids. So they wouldn't be part of the insectoid force. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 17 '15 at 0:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre So they would make the perfect allies... them and other insect-eating organisms might be our best chance. Cry havoc, and let slip the anteaters of war! $\endgroup$ – evankh Aug 17 '15 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre A smallish swarm of ants can overwhelm and kill a largish spider so let me ask you: Which is scarier: a) Spiders intentionally jumping on you OR b) spiders being kidnapped and flung onto you by angry ants $\endgroup$ – Scott Downey Aug 17 '15 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like we need to ask Randall Munroe to chime in on how the spider population compares to the insect population. He estimated in this recent What If? that there are about 200 million kilograms of spiders worldwide. The OP offers a ratio of insects to humans by mass and population, but does not include a total mass from which to compare against the spiders and continue this exploration. $\endgroup$ – Dan Henderson Aug 17 '15 at 15:10
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Neither side wins

The reason why we haven't exterminated insects already is because they are needed for just about everything.

They are a crucial part of the ecosystem as well.

Let's say they all move to a portion of the world to wipe out a specific target: humans. They still need to eat and survive. It would be a battle of attrition against themselves because they would eat their entire food supply at a much faster rate than normal. They can't just not eat. They are small and can't store much energy. So they eat and devour everything in their swarming, then the land turns to desert. Then they move to another area, where they repeat the process, until they have cornered themselves and there is nothing to eat, no shade, and masses of insects die.

The ecosystem crashes and everything dies, just because they grouped together.


Some insects eat other insects. like the Japanese Hornet (#1 on this list I hope I never see one of these)

Japanese Hornet

Those bugs can't just stop and say "Hey I am not going to eat you, because we are fighting these huge humans". Insects multiply faster than humans, I am sure that it will cause an increase in these types of insects as well, just to balance out the amount of insects in the area.


As far as Termites eating large homes, if they were in large enough numbers they could decimate a house or many homes, but then there is travel time, and we could knock them out in transit.

By the time that they eat all the 128 million homes (mentioned in another answer) they will have increased their numbers to an amazing amount, where they would be to a point that they would eat every tree for miles, and then they would die out because the ecosystem couldn't handle supporting them.


It all comes down to balance.

There wouldn't be balance, and everything would die eventually.

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The way you have described it I guess..

We Lose.

But - Say we assume 'super intelligent being' is comparatively on par with our intelligence in the insect world and we have a fair fight.

Then, We win. We adapt.

Why?

  • We already know their weaknesses - We have already have many ways of killing insects and protecting ourselves from them; fire, pesticide, weight, air filters, water filters, virally etc.
  • We already have the weapons and technology - including pest control experts.
  • We have opposable thumbs - we can build and operate stuff to work for us.
  • We can turn insects into food if required.

We even have mind control. Search for cockroach. There is an app for it.

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I don't think there is easy way to say who win this.

From one side, insects outnumbered us, but from other hand there are various type of clothing which protects us from any insects (at least in theory). In majority of homes, there are plenty insect killers sprays or other anti-insects weapons.

Insects, such as locust could attack our crops, but this is real threat even without super intelligent swarm mind. Locust is constantly under monitoring, its population is under control.

So people wont't be completely defenseless in this war. But from other hand, super intelligent mind having under control every insect, this is huge advantage for team Insect. Insects can win this war, but it has to be blitzkrieg. They has to win in first attack, because if humans will reorganize and strike back, insects will lose. In long run, humans have technology which allow them to completely eradicate all insects. Would be a Pyrrhic victory, it is different story.

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The insects will definitely win

  • Pesticides are of no use: they would work initially but insects like ants, mosquitoes and cockroaches get used to them too quickly (as a proof of that, they still infest houses).
  • They can infiltrate in computers and machine and tamper them (the term "bug" for errors in IT comes actually from the fact a moth short-circuited one of the first calculator)
  • They can spread diseases like malaria and black plague
  • Many of them are so tiny you don't even know they are there. By the time you found them it's too late.
  • I read a study many years ago stating that scorpions and cockroaches would survive a nuclear holocaust
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    $\begingroup$ Hank Pym, where are you? $\endgroup$ – Paul Chernoch Aug 18 '15 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ -1 It's not that they get used to them, but that there are so many of them that the resistant ones survive. Infiltrating and tampering with computers was possible because computers were so big. Now that computers are microscopic even insects would need specialized tools to tamper with them. And the smallest insects are Fairyflies and on average they are between 0.5 and 1mm... that's not that small that you don't even know they are there. $\endgroup$ – David Mulder Aug 19 '15 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidMulder i.e the "species" get used to the poison. When was the last time you opened a PC? A single ant can easily short-circuit even a mobile phone. Also, have you ever tried searching for fleas? By the time you found them they would have already bit you (and passed some disease). $\endgroup$ – algiogia Aug 19 '15 at 10:07

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