A new study has estimated that the total global population of ants is a mind-blowing 20 quadrillion (20 followed by 15 zeroes) or approximately 2.5 million ants crawling around for every human.
The combined biomass of all ants on Earth amounts to 12 megatons of carbon. Biomass is the total quantity or weight of organisms in a given area. This exceeds the combined biomass of wild birds and mammals (2 million tons) and equals 20% of human biomass.
There are more than 12,000 known species of ants, generally black, brown or red in colour. Ants are most abundant in tropical and subtropical regions; they can be found nearly everywhere, except Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland and some island nations.
Ants serve as key ecological players for nutrient cycling, decomposition processes, plant seed dispersal and the agitation of soil. “Think about the amount of organic matter that 20 quadrillion ants transport, remove, recycle and eat. In fact, ants are so essential for the smooth working of biological processes that they can be seen as ecosystem engineers. The late ant scientist E.O. Wilson once called them ‘the little things that run the world’,” says entomologist Patrick Schultheiss, co-author of the study.