Science: Estimate: About 20 quadrillion ants live on Earth

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Estimate: About 20 trillion ants colonize the Earth

An ant sits on the underside of a leaf. Photo

© Sina Schuldt / dpa / Icon Image

Ants not only amaze with their enormous power, but also their ubiquitous spread is impressive. A team of researchers has now estimated how many insects are on Earth.

According to estimates by an international team of researchers, there are about 20 trillion ants on trees and soils around the world. In purely mathematical terms, there would be about 2.5 million of these tiny animals for one person. In a study, the team wrote, all six-legged insects weigh more than all land birds and land mammals in the world combined. Since the researchers don’t have any numbers for specific regions and habitats, they hypothesize that the number of ants may be greater.

The calculations of the research team led by first author Patrick Schulthes of the University of Würzburg are based on an evaluation of more than 450 studies. These include censuses from about 1,300 different sites on all continents of the world and cover the most important habitats in which surface ants live. The researchers presented their findings in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”).

As the scientists explained in their study, previous calculations assumed that there were much fewer ants. In 1994, two American biologists estimated the number of ants living on Earth at between one and 10 quadrillion. This is because the researchers only measured the density of ants in areas of southern England and then extrapolated it to the whole world.

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According to the results of the new study, nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of above-ground ants are found in humid tropical forests and tropical savannas. In total, there are more than 15,000 different species and subspecies – perhaps even more yet to be discovered. Ants have made an important contribution to the preservation of ecosystems – for example by dispersing plant seeds.

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