Very common in post-apocalyptic fiction or in events happening in the distant future, when no more humans are around and a new species has taken over the world. This species generally is or has evolved from a small, humble life form, often (though not necessarily) the cockroach.
This trope was frequent during the Cold War, when people feared that The End of the World as We Know It was near, and it was also discovered that cockroaches have much higher radiation resistance than human beings. Unfortunately for popular culture, it turns out that cockroaches have higher resistance to a sudden lethal burst, but are as subject to long-term fallout as most life. Further, as pointed out in Life After People, cockroaches are tropical to semi-tropical insects: their current extensive range is a consequence of humans heating their homes and businesses. With no humans — and more to the point, no artificial heating — around, cockroach populations would plummet fairly swiftly in temperate and colder areas once winter sets in. Worth noting here is that a nuclear war severe enough to wipe out humanity would also result in severe worldwide nuclear winter, making it a particularly devastating apocalypse for any heat-loving creature.
- TerraforMARS cockroaches hyper-evolved after an experiment to terraform Mars developing humanoid shape and intelligence.
- Kamandi takes place in an alternate future where humans are all but extinct and animals have become more anthropomorphic and sapient.
- Marvel Comics: Cable has a storyline in Earth-80521 with a race of humanoid roaches, the Roach Soldiers, who have their own president.
- The Extremist Vector: Everyone on their world died in the nuclear war they started so, there is no more human race for the Extremists to enslave. The only mammals to survive in any notable numbers were rats.
- Rock & Rule has an intro narration that, After The End, the dogs, cats and rats ascended to mastery of the ravaged Earth, and have rebuilt their new civilization atop the debris of the old, making it a World of Funny Animals.
- In WALLE the only sign of animal life on the garbage-covered Earth is a seemingly indestructible cockroach.
- Godzilla: The M Space Hunter Nebula Aliens from Godzilla vs. Gigan are man-sized humanoid cockroaches, the only surviving life form on a planet wasted by pollution caused by its previous civilization.
- The Hellstrom Chronicle is a mockumentary about how insects will eventually win the fight for survival over humans and, thus, rule the Earth in the future.
- Joe's Apartment: Played for Laughs; apparently, cockroaches have a prophecy that some day the big war will happen and the world will be theirs.
- Mimic: A race of insects evolves in record time and became not only huge, but also a real threat to humanity.
- Animorphs: The Ellimist finds the planet that will one day be called Earth, and sees the future not in the lumbering dinosaurs but the small hairy creatures. The planet's destiny is further changed when the Animorphs go back in time to discover two alien species warring over Earth, the Nesk and Mercora. After getting the Nesk to leave the planet, Tobias takes the responsibility of making sure the Mercora don't keep it either, as humans would likely not have evolved if a sentient species was already present on the planet.
- Evolution by Stephen Baxter: In the 650 million year time span explored by the novel (from the age of dinosaurs to the far future), crocodiles are one of the few constants. They are so hardy that they still thrive Just Before the End of life on Earth — evolved to smaller sizes to consume fewer resources, but otherwise unchanged since the Mesozoic.
- The Figure, by Edward Grendon: Nuclear testing has lead to giant insects, and a scientist testing a time machine brings back a figure from the future which he's horrified to realise is a beetle-like creature portrayed in a religious fashion.
- The Future Is Wild: 500 million years in the future, the world is dominated by invertebrates such as termites, worms, and cephalopods. Land-going vertebrates are all extinct. In the seas, bony fishes have mostly been displaced by crustaceans, although sharks are still thriving.
- Red Dwarf: In Better Than Life, Earth turns out to have been reduced to the solar system's garbage dump, and when Lister makes his way back to it he encounters eight-foot cockroaches feasting on the mounds of trash. They make him their king.
- The Shadow Out of Time: A race of giant beetles will rule the Earth millions of years in the future once humans are extinguished.
- Sherlock Holmes: Part of Holmes' faux-delirium in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" is babbling about the world being overrun by oysters.
- The Time Machine: At the end of the book, the Time Traveller discovers that in the distant future Earth's dominant lifeform is going to be some sort of giant crab-like creatures.
- Benson: Discussed in an episode with a nuclear war simulation.
Governor: Do you think it's possible to survive a nuclear war?
Benson: Sure, if you're a rat or a cockroach.
Clayton: Well, I intend to survive.
Benson: Like I said, rats and cockroaches.
- I Am Not Okay With This has a variation. Stanley believes that jellyfish will rule the Earth after humanity destroys itself, which is why he, in one of his drugged-out hazes, wishes he could be a jellyfish after the apocalypse so he could lead them to victory over the roaches.
- The Stand: Glen Bateman talks to a roach while in a jail cell musing on the mistakes humanity has made that led to them being nearly wiped out by the superflu and siding with Randall Flagg. He remarks that humans could learn a thing or two from the roaches, and that the roach will likely be around long after Bateman' own impending death. Then Randall Flagg crushes it underfoot. Both mocking Bateman and underscoring that not even roaches are safe from Flagg.
- Mark Graham: In the last verse of "Their Brains Were Small and They Died", a future cockroach paleontologist declares that the title applies to long-extinct humanity, just as humans long besmirched dinosaurs with the same allegation.
- In one of the Dave Hollins: Space Cadet sketches, Dave finds that the only survivors of a nuclear war are fruit flies, beetles and P.E. teachers with fruit flies now being Earth's dominant species.
- On pondering this trope, Irish comedian Jimeoin wondered if cockroaches had the same terror of thongs (often used to squash cockroaches) that people have of nuclear war, and imagined that cockroaches might write protest songs about them.
- Adam Ferrara joked about how his wife was so strict and controlling that he came home one day to find his household cockroaches running the vacuum cleaner and yelling "Wipe your feet!" at him:
"Look, buddy, after the bombs drop it's just gonna be her and us, and we don't want no trouble!"
- ARK: Survival Evolved: One of the unique creatures surviving on After the End Earth in Extinction is a highly-advanced tardigrade, the Gasbag. Tardigrades, also known as waterbears, are microscopic creatures almost as renowned as cockroaches for their resilience... except Gasbags are the size of a Volkswagen and can fly. Even the Dino Dossier entry seems puzzled.
- Best Fiends: Lapoleon the cockroach is mentioned as being prepped to being the "Emperor of Everything", thanks to being able to withstand atomic blasts.
- In Bug Fables, insects and several other invertebrates developed human-level intelligence and created their own civilization ever since what they call "the Day of Awakening", with roaches being the first to do so. Humans are completely absent from the game, and are only mentioned in the lore books, where it was stated that they "disappeared" from the world, and the last lore book hints at the possibility that they were driven to extinction by some sort of cataclysm. There is no definitive explanation, but given that the "Giants' Lair" is inhabited by vicious Lovecraft-esque monsters, the truth might not be pretty.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, the story takes place in a world where humans were nearly wiped out by a mutation of the bird flu virus. In an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, the remaining humans created a new virus which was designed to kill the birds carrying the bird flu. However, instead of killing the birds, the new virus made the birds much more intelligent, and able to wage war on the humans. Though some humans still survived, the war resulted in birds becoming the new dominant life forms on earth.
- Splatoon: In the backstory, humans rendered themselves and most other land animals extinct via global warming, and so eventually various sea creatures like squids, octopuses, jellyfish, etc. crawled their way onto land and went through a new process of evolution into more humanoid forms, becoming the Inklings, Octarians, etc. and eventually starting their own civilizations.
- In Stellaris "Tomb Worlds", planets whose native sapient life wiped themselves out in a nuclear war, often host pre-sentient insectoids that can be uplifted, enabling easier colonization of other Tomb Worlds. Earth randomly generates as a Tomb World disturbingly often.
- The December 8, 2019 edition of Breaking Cat News recommends that cat owners should buy Christmas cacti instead of poinsettia, since they have attractive red flowers but are harmless to cats. They are also "virtually indestructible — when the world ends, this will all be Christmas cacti and cockroaches." A graphic depicts the familiar mushroom cloud and cockroaches dancing happily among the cacti.
- Australian filmmaker David Johns and his friend Matt Eastwood posted this parody of Planet Earth on Youtube in which David Attenborough predicts the "bin chicken" (actually the Australian white ibis, which has a tendency to forage in rubbish bins) will inherit the Earth after pollution has killed off the human race: Planet Bin Chicken.
- TierZoo: Subverted in the video discussing what would happen if humans were nerfed. Cockroaches would be quickly forced to retreat to the tropics, as they would no longer have access to the heated houses they depend on to survive the winter in higher latitudes. Likewise, rats would also experience a sharp decline without access to human food stores or the ability to retreat into houses to avoid predators.
- The Fairly OddParents: In the episode "Wanda's Day Off!", Timmy wishes he knew what a cockroach was thinking about. When Cosmo grants the cockroach intelligence and the ability to speak, it immediately stands up on its hind legs and yells "WORLD DOMINATION!" Throughout the rest of the episode, the cockroaches organize, gather weapons, and proceed to Take Over the World. Cosmo can't stop them since the roaches cannot be killed by magic. The situation is resolved when Wanda comes back and un-wishes the whole mess by sending the roaches to Fairy World (more specifically, the spa resort where she was poorly treated).
- In The Future Is Wild, it's squid that get this treatment, with the tree-dwelling ape-like squibbon implied to be the ancestor of a future sapient species.
- Justice League: In "Hereafter, Part II", Superman finds himself stranded on a future Earth, thousands of years after an apocalyptic event caused by Vandal Savage (the only other person alive) and with a race of intelligent giant cockroaches as their enemies.
- Peace on Earth: Made in 1939 (just before World War II would be set off), and is set after a fatal global war war in which humans have gone extinct, as told by a kindly old squirrel (voiced by Mel Blanc) to his grandchildren in which the animals of the earth build a new civilization following this self inflicted omnicide. This was also remade in 1955 as Good Will to Men and modified with an anti-nuclear warfare message.
- Pinky and the Brain: In "Brain of the Future", has them travel in time to the far future when anthropomorphic cockroaches rule the world under a cockroach queen who plans to conquer the universe.
- Most major extinction events end up as this; the smallest life forms tend to survive easier and in some cases became dominant later. This is what happened to mammals after the extinction of dinosaurs, for example.