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How Many Ants Live on Earth?

If that question has ever crossed your mind, you'll be pleased to know that scientists have now gone to the trouble of calculating the answer.

Ant carrying a leaf

Scientists have done some math to figure out just how many of the insects live on Earth and, well, let’s hope there’s not an uprising.

For every human being on this planet, there are 2.5 million ants. In total, according to the estimate, that adds up to 20,000,000,000,000,000 - that’s 20 quadrillion if the long string of zeros makes your head spin.

The research, headed by scientists at the University of Hong Kong, found that the total mass of ants on Earth came in at 12 million tons of dry carbon. That’s more than the weight of every living bird and mammal (excluding humans) on the planet.

Calculating that figure took a lot more than one team. Data was gathered from 489 studies and thousands of scientists. And the number might actually be a bit higher, as some areas of Africa and Asia did not have data.

So why count ants? Scientists wanted to know if the ant population was suffering from climate change, destruction of habitats or pesticides. Similar calculations are routinely done for, say, birds and butterflies - but had never been done for ants. So with a baseline number, they’ll be able to better track it now.

“This study highlights the central role ants play in terrestrial ecosystems but also major ecological and geographic gaps in our current knowledge,” the study reads. “Our results provide a crucial baseline for exploring environmental drivers of ant-abundance patterns and for tracking the responses of insects to environmental change.”



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