Let's assume something which is very likely to happen: mankind self-destructs and passes from the earthly scene. What creature is next in line.
Many might assume that chimpanzees rise to the occasion and become intelligent beings. A long shot, perhaps, but some might think dolphins.
Don't overlook a creature that exists right under our nose in North America. In fact, it's not at all unlikely there's one within 100 feet of you right now, even if you live in the city. In fact, increasingly, especially if you live in the city.
I'm speaking of the raccoon. They are among the smartest of wild animals and their front paws are more than halfway there to being akin to human hands. Watch Raccoon Nation and judge for yourself.
The candidate might come from an entirely new order in several billion years.
If I could influence the process I would probably pick the Sea Horse. I can't begin to imagine how hilarious it would be if there were intelligent self aware sea horses debating existence, love and table manners with one another. Imagine how incredible their mating dance would be as a social/cultural construct!
Unfortunately, while seahorses or dolphins could become philosophers and poets, they suffer a huge disadvantage when it comes to developing high technology: the problem of using electricity under water. Would your seahorses leave the sea for land?
The seahorses would actually develop a fantastic appendage that would allow them to form a cocoon around them that would effectively create a bubble filled with water that could leave the sea and float around in the air. That and their telekinesis abilities should overcome the disadvantages you mentioned ;)
Or like this....
I would prefer Sea Horses over tuna. Their smell is far less fierce.
As one of the oldest living species on earth, they may be said to have already inherited the earth.
When dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals were mostly tiny, nocturnal, burrowing creatures - like a field mouse. We (as in mammals) survived by having extremely large populations (possible due to our small size) that burrowed - presumably leading some of us to living under rocks.
So, if our extinction event is as grand as that of the dinosaurs, I would start looking under rocks for the next dominant species on earth. I'm gonna vote for some form of creepy crawly to lead to larger crawly brawllies, into packs of slimy slurpers, and finally dominant race usurpers. At least that is what I imagine Theodore Geisel would say.
"crawly brawlies and slimy slurpers"
you go Heather.....
It really depends on the nature of the extinction and the environmental conditions left behind. Intelligence might be a factor in species survival, although, if conditions were bad enough, it could just as easily be something as simple as a bacteria which comes out on top. I guess that an ability to adapt, and adapt rapidly, would be one of the key factors. I certainly give raccoons a vote though, intelligent, adaptable and cute.
In the original post, what I had in the back of my mind wasn't catastrophe that killed off most life on the surface of the planet, but rather something like a disease that wiped humans out. So, suppose humans, and only humans, were to disappear. Who's next?