There are 2.5 million ants for every human on the planet

Are ants the most successful creature on the planet? It looks like they might be because the experts have worked out how many ants there are on the planet and the number is humongous at 20 quadrillion or 2.5 million for every human. 20 quadrillion is 20,000 trillion individuals. To write that in another way it is 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 1024.

World's ants' weigh one-fifth of entire weight of humans on the planet
World’s ants’ weigh one-fifth of entire weight of humans on the planet. Image: MikeB from Britannica image with background added.

However, there is a difference between the American and British quadrillion just to make things more complicated. An American quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000.

They decided that the biomass of all the world’s ants is more than that of wild birds and mammals combined and a fifth that of humans. In other words, the biomass of all the humans on the planet is five times that of all the ants. I guess that is common sense because of the weight difference but it also tells us how many humans there are on the planet? Too many? I would say there is.

The scientists concerned work at the University of Wurzburg and their study is published in PNAS. They said that ants are of “tremendous ecological importance”. The lead author is Sabine Nooten.

Apparently, their estimate is 2-20 times higher than earlier estimates. Sabine Nooten said: “We were very surprised about the large number of ants we found. We virtually didn’t have any expectations because the numbers which floated around beforehand and scientific literatures were basically educated guesses, and they had very little empirical data to work from. And so, this is the novelty of our study because we synthesised the data from a lot of empirical studies”.

Previously it was estimated that there were between one quadrillion and 10 quadrillion ants. The estimate was made by renowned biologists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson who assumed that ants made up about 1% of the world’s estimated insect population which was further estimated to be one quintillion individuals.

The new study assessed 465 other studies which covered 1,306 locations and which covered all the continents and the major biomes where ants are found.

The estimated that the ground-dwelling ants in South America to number around three quadrillion. Expectedly, they said that the destruction of the forests will have an impact on the number of hands and that changes in agriculture will also have an impact.

Apparently, this is the first global estimate of ant numbers and before the study was concluded they didn’t know the complete picture.

Adam Hart, Prof of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, England said, in an interview with CNN, that, “This new study, based on nearly 500 studies across the world, gives us the best answer yet to this tricky question. The outstanding thing is not just the overall number, but the proportion of biomass that ants represent – a fifth of the biomass of all humans. It really underlines just how important ants really are”.

P.S. Ants are almost invisible despite their population being 2.5 million times that of humans. It is down to their size. Shame humans are so big and so destructive.

Below are some more articles on insects.

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Post Category: Insects > ants