German scientists from the Julius Maximilian University (JMU) conducted a study that allowed them to calculate the total number of ants on the planet. To do this, they analyzed 489 scientific papers on these insects and covering almost all continents and habitats. From this data, they calculated what they called a “conservative empirical estimate.”
According to the results of the study, there are now almost 20 quadrillion ants on Earth. It’s 20 followed by 15 zeros. If a little easier, then there are about 2,000 times more ants on the planet than there are stars in our galaxy.
This is double the very rough calculation by E. O. Wilson published in 1994, the first scientific attempt to estimate ant abundance by extrapolation. However, the new study does not take into account members of the colonies who do not leave their nests in search of food, and ants from boreal forests , for which data are scarce.
The researchers did not stop at this gigantic figure. They calculated how much all these ants together would weigh – about 12 million tons. This is more than the total mass of all wild birds and mammals combined (except humans).
Some more interesting findings from the study:
- Ants are mainly concentrated in the tropics, with more of them in forests and deserts, and fewer in urban environments. In the polar regions, they are practically absent.
- Ants that live in trees outnumber their terrestrial counterparts by about six to one.
- Among arthropods, ants make up only 1.2% of terrestrial species, but they account for at least 6% of the total biomass.
The research may seem a bit frivolous, but it wasn’t just a matter of satisfying curiosity. The team of scientists notes that since ants play a very prominent role in their ecosystems, it is important to understand their distribution and how climate change could affect them.
Ants move up to 13 tons of soil mass per hectare per year. Therefore, they have a great influence on the maintenance of nutrient cycling, and also play a crucial role in the dispersal of plant seeds.
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