Scientists at the Julius Maximilian University (JMU) decided to calculate the total number of ants on the planet, or how common they are in different habitats.
It was not just a matter of counting all the anthills on the planet. Instead, the scientists looked at 489 scientific studies on the subject, spanning all continents and habitats, and calculated what they call a conservative empirical estimate from the data.
The study was published in the journal PNAS.< /p>
There are nearly 20 quadrillion ants on Earth right now, according to the team. It's 20 followed by 15 zeros, it's a number that's hard to wrap your head around. Scientists have noted that there are 2,000 times more ants on Earth than there are stars in our galaxy.
The team went even further and calculated how much all these ants together would weigh – about 12 million tons. This is more than the total mass of all wild birds and mammals combined (except humans).
So how do they spread around the planet? As expected, the researchers found that ants are concentrated in the tropics, with more in forests and deserts and fewer in urban environments. There are virtually no ants in the polar regions.
The team of scientists say that because ants play such a huge role in their ecosystems, it's important to understand their distribution and how climate change could affect them.
“Ants move up to 13 tons of soil per hectare per year. Therefore, they have a great impact on maintaining nutrient cycling, and also play a crucial role in the dispersal of plant seeds,” said Patrick Schultheis, co-author of the study.