New research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday shows that there are approximately 20,000 trillion ants on Earth. The team of scientists looked at 489 studies for this analysis. The result revealed that the total mass of ants equals approximately 12 megatons of dry carbon. This means they would outweigh all wild birds and mammals put together on a scale. This number also equals 20% of human biomass.
To count the number of ants, they combined comprehensive data from around the world, spanning 80 years. The study further says that there is an uneven distribution of ants across the globe. However, the number peaks in the tropics.
“We were very surprised about the large number of ants we found,” CNN quoted Sabine S. Nooten, insect ecologist and temporary principal investigator, University of Würzburg, Germany.
“We virtually didn’t have any expectations because the numbers which floated around beforehand in scientific literatures were basically educated guesses, and they had very little empirical data to work from.” Nooten told CNN. “And, so, this is the novelty of our study because we synthesized the data from a lot of empirical studies.”
“No one has ever assembled a data set on ants on a global scale.” Patrick Schultheiss, co-lead author of the study and temporary principal investigator at the University of Würzburg, Germany, told CNN.
However, researchers maintain that this number is “conservative”, because they could not include all the data they wanted to. Data on underground ants and ants living in far north and far south regions, for example, was not available.
Schultheiss further added that even those who aren’t scientists can add to the dataset by collecting leaf litter, getting the ants out and counting them. Students can undertake such efforts as well. According to the paper, understanding the number and distribution of ants is important in order to analyse their roles in ecosystems and their ecological importance.