The planet is riddled with ants. This is a simple and imprecise statement. However, if we wanted to know how many there are in total, the issue becomes much more complicated. Logically, they cannot be counted one by one. Only the estimates based on their proportion with respect to the rest of the insects remain. However, research by a group of scientists from the University of Hong Kong has gone much further, throwing up a figure that, although quite conservative, is well above the estimates made so far.
In order to give a number, they have dedicated themselves to reviewing the scientific literature, looking for studies that delve into the number of ants in different parts of the world. In total, they have analyzed 489 studiescarried out on all continents, in the most varied ecosystems and with very different ant species.
Thus, they have come to the conclusion that in the world there are at least 20 quadrillion ants. This is a 20 followed by fifteen zeros, so it is an abysmal figure. And the truth is that this would be the lower end of reality, because the studies they have reviewed do not take into account populations of ants that live in trees or underground. The figure could be much higher and the truth is that we should be grateful for it, because ants are essential for the maintenance of ecosystems and the survival of other living beings. Including ourselves.
Why are ants so important?
Ants are incredible animals. His ability to organize hierarchical populationseven with their own army, has made them born conquerors, so they can be found almost anywhere in the world.
This is a huge advantage, as they are a great help to ecosystems on many levels. On the one hand, when they dig their nests or simply drill into the ground, they make it easier for oxygen and water to reach the roots of plants. In addition, they help move seeds from one place to another and even plant them, since they move them underground to keep them in their pantries. All this even leads some plants to enslave themusing them for their own benefit.
On the other hand, they are essential in the food chain, as they are the food of many other species. But, in turn, they are also predators of many insects, so they avoid overpopulations. Finally, they can face some pestsbeing more effective than pesticides.
In short, ants are all advantages. That is why it is so important that there are many and that these figures are maintained, despite the threats to which some species are exposed.
Much more than we thought
According to the study just published in PNAS, there are a total of 20 quadrillion ants in the world. But, beyond that, these scientists have also calculated what their weight is. It should be noted that the weight is measured in the amount of dry carbon; which, in the case of ants, is about half of the total. The approximate figure obtained in this study is 12 million tons of dry carbon. This is more than all wild birds and mammals combined and a fifth of all humans.
There are a lot of ants, that’s for sure. The problem is that, even though this is a conservative figure, it could fall in not too long if nothing is done to solve it. And it is that many species of these insects are already in extinctionfor reasons ranging from climate change until the introduction of invasive species that prey on them or spread diseases. Also the use of certain pesticides, overexploitation and pollution, all derived from human activity, can endanger them. It has even been seen that they can be greatly affected by the introduction of artificial lighting.
It is important to prevent this from happening, although it is also logical that if the ants become a plague, it is necessary to act against them. Therefore, the recommendation is to prevent these pests from forming. To do this, simple advice should be followed, such as throwing out the rubbish regularly, keeping the bin covered or not leaving food on the kitchen counter, especially if it is sweet. Thus, we will prevent the plague instead of acting against it. And also in this way we will ensure that, instead of invading our kitchen, those 20 quadrillion ants are helping to save ecosystems. We do it for ourselves and for the planet.