What scientists have found in determining the number of ants in the world is unimaginable. The whole world is shocked by the number estimated by the researchers.
As the saying goes, “One bee does not make a hive, nor does one ant make a colony.” A new research has once again shown how true this is. In fact, our sujala sufla bashundhara is practically an ant’s world, we humans have come to roam around.
According to a recently published research paper, there are about twenty quadrillion ants on earth making noises in their minds in concentration. 20 quadrillion means 15 zeros behind 20. (20 quadrillion ants)
This number is not only surprising, but the number is unbelievable. 20,000,000,000,000,000 or 20,000 trillion—the number highlights the amazing ubiquity of ants. And as a result, scientists are becoming more concerned that the way ecosystems are damaged, the insect die-off could cause severe damage to the planet.
In a paper published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists from the University of Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies and concluded that the total mass of ants on Earth weighs about 12 megatons of dry carbon. The weight of animals is measured by dry carbon.
To put it another way, if all the ants were picked up off the ground and put on a scale, they would outnumber all the wild birds and mammals put together. As an estimate, there are about 2.5 million ants per human head.
“It’s unimaginable,” Patrick Schultheis, one of the paper’s lead authors, said in a Zoom interview. Patrick Schultheiss is currently a researcher at the University of Wurzburg, Germany. He added, “I can’t imagine 20 quadrillion ants in an anthill. It’s unthinkable.”
Counting all these insects, at least to come up with an accurate estimate of their numbers, would require gathering data from thousands of researchers in different countries over at least a hundred years, Schultheiss added. And that has been done.
To count insects that are abundant, such as ants, there are two ways: drop down to the ground to sample leaf litter or place a plastic cup in a small pitfall or trap. And wait, when the ants slip into it. Researchers have gone to almost every corner of the world to survey, although data from parts of Africa and Asia are still lacking, scientists say. “This measure would not have been possible without the efforts of everyone around the world,” Schultheis said.
Like humans, ants roam virtually every continent and every type of habitat. According to the research team, soil-dwelling ants in tropical and subtropical regions are most abundant, but they are found almost everywhere except in the coldest places on Earth.
The noted author and antologist E. O. Wilson once said: “Except perhaps Antarctica or the high Arctic regions, it is difficult to find a place where ants are not present. And so I don’t go to those areas. No matter how different human culture is, no matter how favorable the natural environment, ants will be there.”
Indeed, human coexistence with ants is essential for the good of the world. They maintain air flow through the soil by tunneling through the soil. The seeds are pulled underground to germinate. Needless to say, they serve as a source of food for arthropods, birds and mammals.
Worryingly, however, entomologists in Germany, Puerto Rico and elsewhere have seen declines in populations of insects other than ants. Habitat destruction, widespread use of pesticides and climate change are confronting us with dire situations. Scientists have named it ‘Bugpocalypse’ or extinction of insects. According to a 2019 study, more than 40 percent of insect species may become extinct. Butterflies and beetles are at the forefront of extinction.
However, scientists are not sure if the number of ants is also declining. “Honestly,” Schultheis says, “we still have no idea.”
All members of Schultheis’ team want to answer that question in future research. “We have not yet tried to show any temporal changes in this abundance of ants,” says Sabine Nuten. Sabine Nuten is an insect ecologist and co-lead author of the study. “We will learn more about this in future studies.”
For decades, scientists have looked intently at anthills in the laboratory to test theories of animal behavior. Wilson, an ant scientist, used his insights into ants to explain the genetic basis for cooperation among animals, and also applied the ants’ sense of subject matter to analyze the perfect biodiversity of life worthy of preservation. Wilson died last year.
In the 1990s, Wilson and biologist Bert Holdobler jointly made a rough estimate of the population of ants living on Earth. Their estimate was around 10 quadrillion. That figure is in line with estimates released on Monday.