It’s the ants’ world, and we’re just visiting.
A new estimate for the total number of ants burrowing and buzzing on Earth comes to a whopping total of nearly 20 quadrillion individuals.
That staggering sum — 20,000,000,000,000,000, or 20,000 trillion — reveals ants’ astonishing ubiquity even as scientists grow concerned a possible mass die off of insects could upend ecosystems.
In a paper released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of scientists from the University of Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies and concluded that the total mass of ants on Earth weighs in at about 12 megatons of dry carbon, a standard way of measuring animals’ biomass.
Put another way: If all the ants were plucked from the ground and put on a scale, they would outweigh all the wild birds and mammals put together. For every person, there are about 2.5 million ants.
“It’s unimaginable,” Patrick Schultheiss, a lead author on the study who is now a researcher at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in a Zoom interview. “We simply cannot imagine 20 quadrillion ants in one pile, for example. It just doesn’t work.”
Counting all those insects — or at least enough of them to come up with a sound estimate — involved combining data from “thousands of authors in many different countries” over the span of a century, Schultheiss added. [Continue reading…]