small but mighty

We finally know how many ants are crawling the Earth right now

It’s a lot.

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There are very few places you can go on Earth where you won’t find ants.

These ubiquitous insects live on just about every continent and in every type of ecosystem — existing as 12,000 individual species and acting as both predator and prey.

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But it wasn’t until recently that scientists did a complete head count.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly how many ants are on our planet, a report published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a precise answer:

20 quadrillion.

That’s the number of ants crawling the Earth right now, researchers estimate.

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Here’s a breakdown to help visualize that number:

It’s written with 15 zeros: 20,000,000,000,000,000.

Twenty quadrillion is equal to twenty thousand trillion.

In the simplest terms: That’s a lot of ants!

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To get that gigantic figure, researchers crunched the numbers from 489 studies on ant populations conducted around the world.

Though ants can be found just about anywhere, the researchers discovered that 60 percent of the world’s ants are concentrated to tropical biomes, mainly savannahs and moist forests.

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Their total biomass is larger than that of all birds and wild mammals combined.

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And despite their large numbers, ants make up just six percent of the biomass of terrestrial arthropods.

These are creatures with exoskeletons and segmented bodies, such as insects, arachnids, and myriapods.

Okay, that’s a lot of creepy crawlies. So why does it matter to have an accurate headcount?

One big reason: conservation.

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Climate change is altering ecosystems in unprecedented ways.

Shifts in weather patterns, changing temperatures, and frequent natural disasters can wreak havoc on existing animal populations.

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And while ants may be small, their widespread abundance around the world indicates that they play a pretty significant role in many of the world’s ecosystems.

Understanding how many ants are on the planet and how they’re dispersed can help inform future conservation measures.

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And having a precise estimate of their numbers can help scientists keep tabs on how ant populations fluctuate over time.