Melbourne: Have you ever wondered exactly how many ants live on Earth? Possibly not, but it’s certainly a question we’ve asked ourselves.
The research published today provides an approximate answer. We conservatively estimate our planet harbours about 20 quadrillion ants. That’s 20 thousand million millions, or in numerical form, 20,000,000,000,000,000 (20 with 15 zeroes).
We further estimate the world’s ants collectively constitute about 12 million tonnes of dry carbon. This exceeds the mass of all the world’s wild birds and wild mammals combined. It’s also equal to about one-fifth of the total weight of humans.
Eminent biologist Edward O Wilson once said insects and other invertebrates are “the little things that run the world” – and he was right. Ants, in particular, are a crucial part of nature. Among other roles, ants aerate the soil, disperse seeds, break down organic material, create habitat for other animals and form an important part of the food chain.
Estimating ant numbers and mass provides an important baseline from which to monitor ant populations amid worrying environmental changes.