The world is divided in several factions. Among them : Insects and Humans.

When I say Insects, I don't mean insects : insects are the little creatures with six legs while Insects regroup all social insects, namely all species of ants and termites and the bees and wasps that live in colonies.

Insects have developed a kind of magic (at least, Humans have no better explanation). They are all mentally connected to the Weft. They can :

  • Communicate telepathically with any other member of the Weft.
  • When a member of the Weft dies, all its memories are transferred to a random other member of the Weft.
  • Communicate telepathically with some Humans. To Humans, they seem to have the intelligence of a ten year old.

Humans have no magic abilities. However, their technology is at least as advanced as ours today and will probably be the kind of technology we'll have in two centuries (I haven't decided yet). Moreover, most of them have a scientific background.

There has been a war recently between Humans and Insects. Insects won and had Humans sign a treaty in which one article roughly says : "Each time a Human kills an Insect, Insects will kill a Human. If Insects consider that the number of deaths caused by Humans is too high, Insects will exterminate Humans".

Since they have underestimated Insects during the last war, my Humans have decided to obey them (for now...) and are trying to find effective ways to avoid killing Insects. How can they do that ?

More precisely :

  1. The first step to avoid killing Insects would be to spot them. Are there ways to easily detect Insects not only on the ground and in the air but also in the ground and in materials such as wood ?
  2. I'd like Humans to have Insect-free shelters. I guess they could build structures (including in the ground) to prevent any insect from entering but how do they get rid of those who are already in the structure without harming them ?
  3. Humans will have to go out of the shelters sooner or later. How can they move without squashing any Insect ?

The cheapest and less time-consuming solutions, the better.

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    $\begingroup$ what is "the Weft"? $\endgroup$
    – Miller86
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Won't we develop small object spotting abilities from age 0, in a matter of a couple of generations or so? Some bee-hive keepers who inherited their job have that ability. I'd even venture a guess that an average person can get used to "look for it" in a matter of a year or so. I'm no expert though. BTW, your treaty promotes aggression - Accidents happen and who decides that a human is responsible for killing a bug that flew at high velocity into his window? I'll give it a couple of years :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ Another major issue that I do not see mentioned yet is agriculture. We need it to survive, and by it’s going to be an insect massacre. So either we starve or we fight. I say let’s go Starship Troopers on them! $\endgroup$
    – Édouard
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ You could take some tips from ascetics of the Jain religion; who take a vow of ahimsa, or complete non-violence. From Wikipedia: The Jain mendicants abide by a rigorous set of rules of conduct, where they must eat, sleep and even walk with full diligence and with an awareness that even walking kills several hundreds of minute beings. Jain ascetics sweep the ground before them to avoid injuring the most minuscule forms of life. They generally brush the ground clear of insects before they tread. Digambara monks do not wear any clothes and eat food only when it is not prepared for themselves. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ (Continued from previous comment) Ascetics of the Śvētāmbara tradition wear a small mask to avoid taking in tiny insects. - See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa_in_Jainism As you can see, to avoid killing insects takes considerable effort and sacrifice! $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:38

7 Answers 7


We can't...

In short, without some radical change in human or insect behavior, it kinda sounds like your humans are screwed.

There are roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects on planet earth.

Compare this with 7,000,000,000

That's ten quintillion and seven billion respectively...

The treaty you mention is either:

A) Very poorly conceived and written,


B) Specifically worded with the future extermination of humanity in mind.

The only places on earth that have no insect life also have no human life (at least not permanently settled). They are simply uninhabitable and don't forget that human survival needs are far more complicated than those of insects.

Why are humans screwed?

Well, we kill insects all the time. We drive cars, we walk, we reflexively swat things that land on us...

Insects are going to die...according to your treaty it's a one for one deal so then humans die...and there are waaaay more of them then us...and if we try to live up to the deal in the treaty there will be even more as we won't be spraying pesticides and swatting spiders and flies in our homes...odds are this could even lead to larger disease outbreaks which kill even more humans.

Eventually, even if the insects don't declare war to exterminate us, we will be gone simply by living. The human population will dwindle over time to the point where we no longer have a minimum necessary population to survive as a species.

I say we arm up with flamethrowers and deet laced armor and go out in a blaze of fiery glory instead.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 especially for the last line. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and a red dawn! $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ You don't win a war by dieing for your <strike>country</strike>species. You win the war by making as many as possible members of the opposite die for theirs. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @GuntramBlohm Except... humans need insects (of all kinds, including Insects) on Earth, otherwise the ecosystem would go haywire. So it's not like in the above example humans could actually survive. At best, they could hope to annihilate the Insects and probably die soon after. Unless they could develop the technology needed to keep the ecosystem in check in a short time... Check this answer. $\endgroup$
    – MBender
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the answer is very funny. But I don't really see what it has ANYTHING to do with the question asked. All it seems to do is criticize the original premise that it is impossible for the 'peace' between Humans and Insects to last. So, not an answer per se $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @SphoorthyNutulapati Pointing out impossibilities in premises is acceptable in answers. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:42

Point one, since you've mentioned that the Insects are not just insects but have sentience, you could first include an agreement or something similar between Humans and Insects. Something along the lines of, "Insects are also responsible for entering high risk zones where the density of humans is high and likewise, Humans have to make sure that they not enter places where the likelihood of killing Insects is higher." This is the legal side.

On the more practical side of matters, if the above idea is not possible, the first thing that popped into my head was shoes. We DO kill a lot of insects by crushing them underfoot. Maybe you could have a special kind of footwear that is soft or pliant enough to actually not kill any insects? (Sounds far-fetched to me but hey, the premise itself isn't that plausible.)

Basically, what you first have to think of is what are the different ways in which Insects can be killed by Humans. I mentioned one above.

Another common way we kill Insects is windshields. Lots and lots of insects die because of speeding vehicles. So, establish speed limits. Or you could ban vehicles entirely. Or go windshield-less?

Another way is to, you know, NOT use stuff like bug sprays, insecticides etc.

Most of the suggestions I can think of are on the lines of NOT doing things that kill insects (The stuff we do with the intention of killing them.)

Another way is for the Humans and Insects to have mutually exclusive zones of work. Kind of like a 'no dogs allowed'sign.

These are the really cheap, easy-to-do, non-sci-fi solutions though.

  • $\begingroup$ Easy solutions are often the best ! As for the legal side, Humans are currently trying to convince Insects to respect Human-only areas. But since Insects are a bit narrow-minded and have the upper hand, men have to prepare for the worse. $\endgroup$
    – Rebouh
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:47

It depends on how direct the causality in your treaty is.

Does an Insect count as killed by a Human if they wander into a "roach motel", for instance, or if they're a bee that stings a Human and subsequently dies from their ruptured abdomen when they leave the stinger inside?

In other words, are there situations in which according to the treaty it's the Insect's Own Damn Fault for getting themselves killed, and thus not requiring reprisal? Your Insects may or may not have thought this through; you do say they've got the approximate intelligence of ten-year-olds.

If not, well, I'd recommend the human race set out to sea (or space); so far as I'm aware the ocean doesn't have much in the way of social insects (or any insects, really, if you go out far enough). Getting out there will take some doing, but maybe the start time on that treaty is negotiable.

If so, however, Sphoorthy's answer is relevant here - the isolation no longer has to be total, so we can keep our cars/trains/etc. in certain areas so long as we slow down and take precautions. Lawns are out, though - too easy to miss an Insect in the grass.

Either way, though, you're also going to have to address the issue of sociopathic Humans who figure: "Hey, the treaty didn't say anything about which Human gets killed if I kill an Insect; there are X billion humans on Earth, the odds I'm the one they'll pick are only 1 in X billion! Sure, I'll take those odds - repeatedly!"

Blaze-of-glory types will likely have to be educated on the difference between insects and Insects - a typical windshield is much more likely to encounter the former than the latter, especially after we start lining our roads with Insect-legible "do-not-cross" marks (and tunnels underneath every so often). Similarly, "do-not-eat" chemicals (bad-tasting, not poisonous) can be used to convince termites that yes, in fact, the Humans want that support pillar intact and would rather you didn't keep chewing.


The only way in which this treaty would work out is if we enforce a strict separation of insects and people.

First, insects will have to go live in a country or colony of their own, while people will live on their own territories. (in the scenario you describe this is literally the only way to coexist under those terms)

Step 2 is us nuking each and every one of those colonies, because the whole idea of sentient insects holding humanity hostage with magic is nuts.

Seriously. How could this truce possibly be enforced? Insects breed incredibly quickly - and in quantity. They can spread much faster than humanity could ever hope to keep up. Furthermore, they are our competitors for some resources - such as our crops.

For humanity to redesign our entire existence around avoiding insects is simply insane. They would be killing us by the thousands on any given day as we accidentally step on an ant, or squish a bug (even in our sleep).

  • $\begingroup$ The problem here is that Insects clearly have the upper hand for now and they make the law. Humans have little to no say. As for killing all Insects, they have just tried and it didn't turn out so well... Besides, without those insects, Humans would most likely starve as Adam Davis said. $\endgroup$
    – Rebouh
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:37

The only viable option I can imagine is Insect Repellent (not insecticide).

Humans would have to devise a non-lethal mechanical and/or chemical system for "encouraging" Insect populations to leave areas that humans want or need to inhabit or enter temporarily, and to prevent Insects from re-entering these areas. This might include sound, vibration, light, heat, pheromones, etc. These techniques are both feasible and in-use today, although without the dire consequences of your "Treaty" if the repellent is excessive or less effective than intended.

Because of the gravity of the treaty, this solution would probably include monitoring systems to conserve resources (i.e. Insect detection, to dispense the appropriate dose of Repellent), warn Humans of approaching Insects, and ensure compliance (on both sides), but these are precautionary as opposed to necessary.

Humans would have to retreat to areas where they could survive and produce the Repellent without risk of killing Insects. They could cautiously leave these areas if they could carry Repellent and monitor Insects sufficiently so as not to risk violation of the treaty.


There are many references available that speak to the ability to identify and use non-lethal inset repellents. By studying and understanding insects, especially "smart ones" like you've described, it would be likely they would specify what repellents are acceptable and for what purposes, much like non-lethal forms of human control like tear gas, water hoses, horns and traffic lights.

Insects use various forms of communication - for example, here is an article on "Treehoppers" that use vibrations to attract and warn other treehoppers: http://www.npr.org/2015/08/27/432934935/good-vibrations-key-to-insect-communication - sending a false "predator warning" vibration would likely get them to scatter.

Bee keepers use "smokers" to calm bees. Mosquito repellents come in a lot of varieties, all designed to keep insects away from us (with the side-effect of keeping the insect alive).

And here is an example of a "fake wasp nest" repellent (http://eartheasy.com/live_natwasp_control.htm) - wasps are territorial and unlikely to come near another nest.

Want to buy some insect pheromone repellent? http://www.pestwarehouse.com/c/55/verbenone-mch-pheromone-insect-beetle-repellants-anti-aggregants - it's a real thing.

I also suppose similar techniques could also be used to "lure" Insects to places we want them to go, since other chemicals, substances, actions, etc. attract insects. So a combination of repellents and lures might be more effective than repellent alone.

This is high-level information. Intended to provide the basis for the possibility of using this to resolve the problem you are asking about.I am not an expert on insects or repellents.

  • $\begingroup$ You mentioned vibrations and pheromones repellents. Do you have some details about those (which ones, for which type of Insect, range...) ? $\endgroup$
    – Rebouh
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:23

One of the biggest problems (besides the ambiguity of what is regarded as killing) would be that as trying to live up to the treaty requires humans to cede an awful lot of liberties, there will be humans who resent it. even more so, there will be a lot of humans who don't believe in that "Insects are sentient" crap.

Insects can telepathically communicate with some humans. Just as in real human history, gods can telepathically communicate with some humans, and some believe those humans, but others don't.

All it takes is a few extremists who feel that enough is enough, and go to torch a huge anthill. Suddenly millions of people will be executed. Which will fuel people to avenge them...

  • $\begingroup$ When I say "some humans", it's more like a fifth of the population than one in a billion. So pretty much everyone takes the "Insect menace" seriously $\endgroup$
    – Rebouh
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Rebouh : Yes, but even if 99.999% of humans take it seriously, that still leaves plenty of people to ruin it. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:38

Chances are good the insects got the upper hand by controlling the food supply - either creating famines by not pollinating and breaking down organic matter, or by destroying crops by spreading disease and eating them.

The basic problem is that even if we got rid of insect deaths in our homes, transit, work, and daily life, we'd find that we could not possibly prevent deaths due to our agriculture. We farm nearly 40% of the Earth's land. These environments are home to trillions of insects. There's simply no way to cut back our farming, or change our methods to be insect friendly without decimating our crop production.

Further, while pests and disease wreak havoc from time to time, we control these through the use of pesticides and other insect unfriendly methods. These, however, reflect how we perceive inset intelligence today - if the insects are in any way able to organize, they could literally wipe humans from the face of the earth in under a single generation.

I suspect that is the end game for the insects, because there's simply no way to produce enough food without 1) the insects pollinating our crops, 2) growing the crops with pesticides and insect unfriendly GMO plants, and 3) harvesting the crops on such a large scale that we couldn't possibly prevent insect deaths.

As such, we should agree to the treaty, then immediately start building farms and cities that completely exclude insects. This would require some cooperation from the insects, but hopefully we can buy enough time so that we can build such farms and cities as is needed to be self sustaining, as well as the technologies to replace the tasks insects do naturally. It would be about as difficult as building a self sufficient inhabited base on the Moon or Mars, but it really is the only way forward.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mention it because it wasn't relevant to the question, but you've guessed it right : Insects are well aware they can kill all Humans, and if it were up to them, they'd probably do it. But in the story I'm writing, there is a third faction (unknown to Humans) who prevents them from doing so. And thank you for the parallel with Mars settlements, it helps ! $\endgroup$
    – Rebouh
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:31

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