If you’ve ever had a massive ant invasion in your home you might think that half the ants in the world are in your kitchen—or at least a quarter of them. Not even close. Unless you live in Antarctica, where perhaps ironically, there are no ants, you live where ants outnumber every individual animal species – except bacteria.
Myrmecologists, biologists who study ants and get paid to think of such things, estimate there are one quadrillion ants roaming the earth. That’s the number 1 followed by 15 zeroes or, if you can image it, one million billion. That’s a lot of ants! And they come in about 14,000 different species and subspecies with new ones discovered every year.
In you live in New York City you might have seen biologist Rob Dunn on Broadway, bent over, studying the ground. If you’re like most New Yorkers, you probably tried hard to avoid Rob but he was performing an unheralded service—counting the ants in the Big Apple (well actually in the dirt). Even in the midst of the concrete jungle, ants are ubiquitous. Rob says there are about fifty ants in every square meter of earth which means ants outnumber people 2000 to 1 in New York. He estimates there are 5.3 billion ants in Brooklyn, home to 2.6 million residents. In Manhattan ants score 1.1 billion compared to 1.6 million Manhattan residents.
While we’re throwing numbers around, ants are about one millionth of the size of humans. Although they’re small, the total weight of the entire world’s ant equals the total weight of all the earth’s people.
Ant fossils have been found in sap estimated to be over 100 million years old. When it comes to the tiny ant, millions, billions, and quadrillions are the only numbers that can describe them. Anything less would be ant-climactic.