In the house I live in at the moment we have recently been cursed with a minor infestation of ants. These things get everywhere - in your bed, your food, your toothpaste...
Needless to say, I was getting quite pissed off with these critters after a couple of weeks, especially because it seemed that all the ants were born to do was to annoy and inconvenience humans. What do they actually bring to this party that they call Earth? Apart from being amazingly efficient at vexing us, absolutely nothing.
Compare this to other creatures, I thought. Bees, for example, hurt and annoy us sometimes, but at least they honour us with a hari-kiri ceremony, plus pollinate flowers in their spare time for the greater good of the ecosystem. Even flies; seeming useless, infuriating little things, help Mother Earth out by producing maggots which aid decomposition.
Then I turned my attention to human beings. There's a lot to be said for our race; we have a developed culture, we have settled on pretty much every continent, we have explored space, etc. However, if Homo sapiens had never existed, would the world be a better or worse place?
The thing is that no matter how pointless and extraneous ants might appear to me at the moment, this is in some ways their saving grace. They don't cut down forests, pollute oceans and the air or threaten to end all life on earth in a nuclear holocaust. They exist in harmony with their surroundings, neither improving nor degrading the world they live in.
An obvious retort would be that ants and other life forms aren't developed enough to pose a threat to the planet, they simply don't have the ability to make an impact on the world. If they did, they would surely be behaving as we are. Clearly, this is true, but if we're so developed and superior, shouldn't we realise what we're doing, see the big picture and change our ways?
At the moment, humanity seems to be going through a species' teenage years. We've got the ability, and in some ways the desire, to fuck it all up, but we haven't yet got the intelligence to realise it's in our own interests not to. If it's taken us 400 millenia to reach that point, humankind should turning twenty in about another 216,000 years. I doubt we'll make it.