Ants: There Are Many Interesting Facts And Similarities To Humans

October 16, 2022 at 7:41 p.m.


I was digging a small hole for a new patio light in my back yard and to my surprise, an inch or two below the surface, swarmed literally hundreds or thousands of small black ants.  This small sample is likely indicative of their overwhelming population just in my back yard.  

I find this amazing, considering  that the abundances of ground dwelling ants are strongly concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions and in arid regions as well. I find ants the most fascinating of all insect species. And I am not their only advocate.   

Dr. Lewis Thomas, a famous medical writer, had this to say:  "Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as live stock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies and even capture slaves. And they exchange information ceaselessly – in fact, they do almost everything but watch television."  

Numbers

Ants may not be able to watch television but they are indeed remarkable, and  have been around since a wasp first shed its wings eons ago.  All of its descendants live in the earth, not the ancestral air of insects that fly.  

Ants are extremely adaptable and successful and can be found in every environment except for the liquid, molten or frozen places of Earth. They can constitute up to 15% of the total animal biomass of a tropical rainforest. In the Amazon the combined weight of ants is said to be four times larger than that of other insects in the same area.   

The number of ants alive at any given time has been estimated conservatively  at 100 million billion.  If this estimate is correct, and given that each human weighs on average very roughly 1 or 2 million times as much as a typical ant, then ants and people have the same global biomass.

Other entomologist’s  systemic and empirically derived numbers are different. A recent report integrating data from all the  continents and major biomes,  conservatively estimate 20 × 1015 (20 quadrillion) ants on Earth, with a total biomass of 12 megatons of dry carbon. This exceeds the combined biomass of wild birds and mammals and equals 20% of human biomass.

Ant abundance is distributed unevenly on Earth, peaking in the tropics and varying sixfold among habitats. (Biomass is the weight of living tissue.)  Whatever the number may be, there are at least 20 quadrillion ants on Earth, according to a new study that says even that staggering figure likely underestimates the total population of the insects, which are an essential part of ecosystems around the world.

Species

According to convention, ants are classified in the order Hymenoptera, as are wasps, termites and bees. They arose during the Cretaceous period, and their history thereafter spanned well over 100 million years to the present time. (Compared to ants, humans are newcomers to this planet  and we all can learn a great deal from the ant's highly successful years of experience.)

Ants are one of the most successful groups of insects in the animal kingdom because they are social and form highly organized colonies or nests which sometimes consist of millions of individuals. Colonies of invasive ant species will sometimes work together and form super colonies.  Fire ants are a great example.  There are likely more than 14,000 known ant species, most of which reside in hot climates.

Anatomy

Similar to other insects, ants also have six legs and each leg with three joints. These legs are well built that help an ant to walk faster. These legs are so strong that if humans could ever get these legs, they can run as fast as a race horse. Ants can also lift and carry 20 times heavier weights than its own weight.

Edward O. Wilson

Edward Wilson is the most famous of all ant researchers. He wrote in his book, “Tales from the Ant World,” the following:  “Every one living outside the polar ice sheets who has gazed around their own feet has seen ants, and inevitably, they have heard tales about these social creatures, especially concerning their relationship with humanity. Ants, it is said, are among the little creatures that run the world, perhaps for our benefit or perhaps not. Ants form societies that rival roughly in form and variety those of human beings. Then, there is their awesome abundance. If Homo sapiens had not arisen as an accidental primate species on the grasslands of Africa, and spread worldwide, visitors from other star systems, when they come (and mark my word, they will eventually come), should be inclined to call Earth “planet of the ants.”  

This  book and many of the others I have read are informative and fascinating and a tribute to the scientific world.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected].  



I was digging a small hole for a new patio light in my back yard and to my surprise, an inch or two below the surface, swarmed literally hundreds or thousands of small black ants.  This small sample is likely indicative of their overwhelming population just in my back yard.  

I find this amazing, considering  that the abundances of ground dwelling ants are strongly concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions and in arid regions as well. I find ants the most fascinating of all insect species. And I am not their only advocate.   

Dr. Lewis Thomas, a famous medical writer, had this to say:  "Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as live stock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies and even capture slaves. And they exchange information ceaselessly – in fact, they do almost everything but watch television."  

Numbers

Ants may not be able to watch television but they are indeed remarkable, and  have been around since a wasp first shed its wings eons ago.  All of its descendants live in the earth, not the ancestral air of insects that fly.  

Ants are extremely adaptable and successful and can be found in every environment except for the liquid, molten or frozen places of Earth. They can constitute up to 15% of the total animal biomass of a tropical rainforest. In the Amazon the combined weight of ants is said to be four times larger than that of other insects in the same area.   

The number of ants alive at any given time has been estimated conservatively  at 100 million billion.  If this estimate is correct, and given that each human weighs on average very roughly 1 or 2 million times as much as a typical ant, then ants and people have the same global biomass.

Other entomologist’s  systemic and empirically derived numbers are different. A recent report integrating data from all the  continents and major biomes,  conservatively estimate 20 × 1015 (20 quadrillion) ants on Earth, with a total biomass of 12 megatons of dry carbon. This exceeds the combined biomass of wild birds and mammals and equals 20% of human biomass.

Ant abundance is distributed unevenly on Earth, peaking in the tropics and varying sixfold among habitats. (Biomass is the weight of living tissue.)  Whatever the number may be, there are at least 20 quadrillion ants on Earth, according to a new study that says even that staggering figure likely underestimates the total population of the insects, which are an essential part of ecosystems around the world.

Species

According to convention, ants are classified in the order Hymenoptera, as are wasps, termites and bees. They arose during the Cretaceous period, and their history thereafter spanned well over 100 million years to the present time. (Compared to ants, humans are newcomers to this planet  and we all can learn a great deal from the ant's highly successful years of experience.)

Ants are one of the most successful groups of insects in the animal kingdom because they are social and form highly organized colonies or nests which sometimes consist of millions of individuals. Colonies of invasive ant species will sometimes work together and form super colonies.  Fire ants are a great example.  There are likely more than 14,000 known ant species, most of which reside in hot climates.

Anatomy

Similar to other insects, ants also have six legs and each leg with three joints. These legs are well built that help an ant to walk faster. These legs are so strong that if humans could ever get these legs, they can run as fast as a race horse. Ants can also lift and carry 20 times heavier weights than its own weight.

Edward O. Wilson

Edward Wilson is the most famous of all ant researchers. He wrote in his book, “Tales from the Ant World,” the following:  “Every one living outside the polar ice sheets who has gazed around their own feet has seen ants, and inevitably, they have heard tales about these social creatures, especially concerning their relationship with humanity. Ants, it is said, are among the little creatures that run the world, perhaps for our benefit or perhaps not. Ants form societies that rival roughly in form and variety those of human beings. Then, there is their awesome abundance. If Homo sapiens had not arisen as an accidental primate species on the grasslands of Africa, and spread worldwide, visitors from other star systems, when they come (and mark my word, they will eventually come), should be inclined to call Earth “planet of the ants.”  

This  book and many of the others I have read are informative and fascinating and a tribute to the scientific world.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected].  



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