Earth Has 20 Quadrillion Ants, Study Says

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    An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Washington Post: A new estimate for the total number of ants burrowing and buzzing on Earth comes to a whopping total of nearly 20 quadrillion individuals. That staggering sum — 20,000,000,000,000,000, or 20,000 trillion — reveals ants’ astonishing ubiquity even as scientists grow concerned a possible mass die off of insects could upend ecosystems. In a paper released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of scientists from the University of Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies and concluded that the total mass of ants on Earth weighs in at about 12 megatons of dry carbon. Put another way: If all the ants were plucked from the ground and put on a scale, they would outweigh all the wild birds and mammals put together. “It’s unimaginable,” said Patrick Schultheiss, a lead author on the study who is now a researcher at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, in a Zoom interview. “We simply cannot imagine 20 quadrillion ants in one pile, for example. It just doesn’t work.” Counting all those insects — or at least enough of them to come up with a sound estimate — involved combining data from “thousands of authors in many different countries” over the span of a century, Schultheiss added. To tally insects as abundant as ants, there are two ways to do it: Get down on the ground to sample leaf litter — or set tiny pitfall traps (often just a plastic cup) and wait for the ants to slip in. Researchers have gotten their boots dirty with surveys in nearly every corner of the world, though some spots in Africa and Asia lack data. “It’s a truly global effort that goes into these numbers,” Schultheiss said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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