Could apes evolve into another human-like species?

8 November

As a biologist, yes. Always ‘could’ – anything could happen. We had a common ancestor with chimps. We didn’t evolve from chimps, let’s make that clear. But we shared a most recent common ancestor 5-7million years ago, and we split off from that. We both have very different niches, different environments, different social systems all that kind of stuff. But the same thing could happen again – saying that as a biologist.

Sadly as a human, I don’t think it could happen, because we can’t live with the neighbours we have now. We would never allow something to evolve that came close to us. That’s my social view.

"That’s the beauty of evolution - you never know where it’s going to end up. There’s no limit as to what can change or suddenly pop up very quickly"

But as a biologist, yes. If we got wiped off the face of the planet tomorrow, the biological world would not care. In fact, it would probably be very relieved. I reckon then within a few million years, then yes, you’d have something else exploiting the niche that we inhabit. I can’t say it would definitely happen though because evolution doesn’t have a plan.

We might come back in 10million years or so and there’d be a humanoid thing or a different kind of ape-like thing inhabiting some or all of the niches we do now. That’s the beauty of evolution - you never know where it’s going to end up. There’s no limit as to what can change or suddenly pop up very quickly.

I mean, we’ve got mantis shrimps that can apparently see exponentially more colours than we can. We can’t even visualise what they can see. Even predatory birds can see urine trails through UV. There’s a whole rang of species that can see in colours and shades and spectrums that we can’t.

Mantis shrimp (Photo: Prilfish)

In a world where that can evolve, then yes, anything can happen. That’s the beauty of evolution. Because humans have evolved to become so successful in so many environments, we’d lose our specialism. Our specialism is our brain – that’s our USP.

I don’t think there’s anything that we’re missing as humans regarding evolution. We can metabolise most things, there’s nothing we can’t realistically eat that’s edible, there’s nowhere that we can’t live because we build our own homes. There’s no point in saying we’d be covered in hair, because then we couldn’t live in tropical environments. Having that one big brain, we can kill things and build houses to keep us warm. There’s nothing we could or should have that we haven’t already got.

If we’re going to evolve again, I would still do absolutely everything that we’ve done. I would just have us bent slightly forward so we’re a little bit more quadrupedal than we are, which would take all the weight and pressure off that high centre of gravity in our hips, which makes all the issues and all the problems around there.

Basically, I think it would be nicer if we went slightly more chimp-like again, because I’ve got a really bad back!

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