How many ants are there on Earth? The answer to this question may seem unimportant, but it is actually very important for understanding the planet’s ecosystem and biodiversity. According to recent scientific estimates, there are about 20 quadrillion ants on Earth, which amounts to 20 million billions. These small creatures play a huge role in the life of the planet, and their numbers are key to understanding the Earth’s ecosystem.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2022, summarized data from nearly 500 studies of insect diversity covering all continents, major biomes and habitats. This is the first scientific attempt to estimate ant numbers by extrapolating insect data from southeastern England and applying it to the rest of the world. The number obtained in the study is twice as high as the very crude calculation published in 1994.
About 20 quadrillion ants weigh about 12 megatons. Based on the number of ants, the researchers found that their total global biomass is up to 12 megatons of dry carbon, which is only 20 percent of humanity’s total biomass. However, if ants teamed up with other terrestrial insects, they would easily crush the weight of all humans. A 2023 study found that the total fresh weight of all terrestrial insects and arthropods (not counting aquatic species) is about 1 billion tons. By comparison, the weight of humans is about 400 million tons and livestock is about 600 million tons.
Ants can be found on every continent on Earth except Antarctica, although Iceland, Greenland, parts of eastern Polynesia, and a few of the most remote islands lack native species. More than 15,700 named species and subspecies of ants are known to science. However, it is believed that the true number of species may be double that number. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of ant species are found in only two types of ecosystems: rainforests and savannahs. Given the lack of data on ant populations from parts of Asia and Africa, there are probably gaping holes in the knowledge of ant diversity.
But what is the history of these little creatures? According to a 2006 study, ants appeared between 140 and 168 million years ago. This was during the Jurassic period, characterized by a warm and lush wet climate that led to an abundance of life, most notably many dinosaurs. Ants are thought to have evolved during this time, as it was also the period when flowering plants appeared, providing small insects with food that allowed them to thrive and diversify.
Ants play a huge role in the Earth’s ecosystem. They are key players in the food cycle, seed dispersal, and soil improvement. Many species of ants are predators that control populations of other insects and help maintain balance in the ecosystem. In addition, ants also play an important role in the development of medicine, as many of them contain bioactive compounds in their bodies that can be used to create new medicines.
In conclusion, ants are incredibly important creatures for our planet, and their numbers are a key factor in understanding the Earth’s ecosystem. We can only marvel at their numbers and diversity, and recognize their importance to life on our planet.