Scientists at the University of Hong Kong working with the German research foundation DFG released a study Monday, where they compiled data from all continents and biomes, to answer the question: how many ants live on Earth?
The answer is a conservative 20 quadrillion ants, or “12 megatons of dry carbon,” more than the biomass of all wild birds and mammals put together.
How big is 20 quadrillion?
Scientists love to count things. And myrmecologists (ant scientists) are some of the most elite counters in the business. But what good is counting if we can’t conceptualize the number?
So here are some figures to put the sheer scale of ants into context:
- Using U.S. Geological Survey data, if an ant was a drop of water pouring over Niagara Falls, it would take almost 10 hours for every ant to take the plunge.
- Joey Chestnut can eat 78 hot dogs in 10 minutes, per The New York Times. If every ant turned into a hot dog, it would take 1,000 Joey Chestnuts over 5 million years to clear the planet of hot dogs (and they probably would be rancid at that point).
- The average American consumed 655 pounds of dairy in 2020, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. If for every pound of dairy, Americans also ate 9,000 ants, they could eat all the ants in the world in 10 years.
- The odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery is 1 in 302,575,350, per Syracuse University. If ants played the lottery it would be significantly more difficult to win.
There are a lot of ants on Earth, and according to their study, these scientists have worked to provide a baseline figure for ant populations to track changes in the future.