Earth has 20 quadrillion ants

Ant on a mound of dirt.
Ant on a mound of dirt. Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

'Antman' star Paul Rudd might have the most fans of all big screen superheroes. Why's that? Scientists estimated in a new study that the Earth is home to 20 quadrillion ants.

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The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, scientists say that there are 20,000,000,000,000,000 ants, coming out to 2.5 million ants per living human.

The study's lead author, Patrick Schultheiss, shared in an interview with The Washington Post that the number is "unimaginable."

"We simply cannot imagine 20 quadrillion ants in one pile, for example," Schultheiss said. "It just doesn't work."

In an attempt to quantify the number of ants on the Earth, scientists explained that if they were all taken out of the ground and dried up, they would way more than all the Earth's wild birds and wild mammals combined, the study said.

In a blog post, the researchers said they "estimated that 20 quadrillion average-sized ants corresponds to a dry weight or 'biomass' of approximately 12 million tonnes of carbon."

Scientists used 489 published studies that were dedicated to surveying ants in a given environment in order to come to their figure.

While scientists feel comfortable in their estimations, one thing Schultheiss said they don't know is whether or not that number has continued to grow over time or remained the same, the Post reported.

There are more than 12,500 known species of ants, and they are native to every continent, according to Antmaps, a website dedicated solely to mapping where ants have been spotted.

It was previously believed that since the 1970s, more than half of the insects in the world may have disappeared, but Schultheiss says that when it comes to ants, they "have no idea."

That study was published in 2019 and was conducted by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. However, that study looked at butterflies, bees, and other insects but did not mention ants.

"We can't be sure, but in terms of numbers, we may have lost 50% or more of our insects since 1970 – it could be much more," ecologist Dave Goulson, the author of the new report, wrote at the time. "We just don't know, which is scary ... Perhaps more frightening, most of us have not noticed that anything has changed."

Insects play a crucial role in the environment, and ants have their own jobs. Harvard Forest has shared that they are essential to keeping the environment healthy, aerating the ground, and helping plant life grow and thrive.

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