Ants are a truly fascinating insect. From lifting 100 times their body weight to having the longest life expectancy of any insect, these critters are capable of some incredible things. Get to know a bit more about ants by checking out the interesting facts below.
1. 1 Million Billion Ants Live on Earth
The number “1 million billion” may sound made up or incalculable, but you’ll reach it trying to count all the ants on the planet. We share the Earth with an estimated 1 quadrillion ants spread out over more than 12,000 ant species. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 of these insects. This outnumbers all other living species on Earth, excluding bacteria. The next time you’re feeling stressed about the sight of a few dozen ants in your home, take a breath and be thankful that all the ants on the planet aren’t working together.
2. The Total Weight of Ants Was Once Greater Than the Total Weight of Humans
Image via Flickr by treegrow
Though the claim that all the ants on the planet together weigh as much as all the humans combined is false, it was true not too long ago. The further back you go in history, the closer the weights of all ants and all humans get. Human population and weight increases in modern times, however, show that people are the clear heavyweights. However, before the 18th century, it’s plausible that the weight of all ants exceeded that of all humans.
3. The Asian Weaver Ant Can Carry 100 Times Its Body Weight
You probably know that ants can carry a far greater amount than their own body weight, which comes in handy when foraging. The Asian weaver ant, however, can carry a ton even compared to other species. This ant can lift 100 times its own body weight, even while hanging upside down. The average human adult weighs about 140 pounds, so the Asian weaver ant’s strength is like seeing a person carry (upside down) about eight adult African elephants.
4. Ants Move Literal Tons of Soil and Sand Every Year
Most species of ants are capable of lifting about 50 times their body weight. Working together, they’re capable of moving relatively huge objects and will carry much larger animals back to their nests for food. They also apply this wonderful strength to create intricate tunnels. One study estimates that some ant species can move a metric ton of sand every year.
5. The Biggest Ant Colony Ever Recorded Is Wider Than Rhode Island and Delaware Combined
Another feat that’s hard to imagine, Argentine ants in Europe have taken over a 3,700-mile stretch of coast along the Mediterranean Sea. This single colony is the largest ever discovered. In fact, it’s wider than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Argentine ants have built another massive mound in California (though a mere dirt pile compared to the record holder) that spans 560 miles. This species is also busy with another super-colony in Japan. There are billions of Argentine ants on the planet, and it appears that most of them belong to one of these massive groups.
6. Ants Live for Decades
Ants live longer than any other insects. This is thanks to the queens of some species, who can live for up to 30 years. A single queen will produce several daughter queens during her life, so a few generations of these insects can easily span a century.
7. The Bulldog Ant Is the Most Venomous Species on the Planet
The bulldog ant is a Guinness record holder known for being the deadliest ant species on Earth. Other species, such as the bullet ant and the Maricopa harvester ant, are known for their painful sting and potent venom, but these ants are nonaggressive. The bulldog ant, however, is named for its ferocity and attacking behavior. These ants live for about three weeks and can grow up to 0.07 inches long. They’re native to Australia and have killed at least three people.
8. Some Ants Are Farmers — and Others Are Ranchers
Image via Flickr by Derek Keats
Other than humans, ants are the only creatures on the planet known to farm. Leafcutter ants, for example, harvest leaves but don’t actually eat the plant. Instead, they partially digest it — storing it temporarily in one of their two stomachs — and use the chewed materials to grow a fungus as a food source for their colony.
Other species are known for keeping ranches. Dairying ants raise aphids like cattle and milk them for the sugary substance they produce (called honeydew). These ants even cut the aphids’ wings to keep them from flying away and protect them from predators.
9. Ants Live Everywhere (Except Antarctica)
If you’re hoping to move somewhere where you won’t have to deal with ants, pack warm. These insects are present on every continent except Antarctica. The more aggressive species, however, are found in the Southern Hemisphere — most notably in South America, Africa, and Australia.
10. Ants Can Survive for an Entire Day Under Water
Fire ants are one of a few ant species who can swim to survive a flood. This species actually make rafts out of their bodies to stay afloat. Ants who can’t swim, however, are still incredibly durable in the water. This is because ants don’t have lungs — rather, they breathe through the spiracles on their bodies. A mix of soap and water, however, will coat the ant, block the spiracles, and cause the insect to suffocate.
11. The Biggest Ant Ever Discovered Lived Millions of Years Ago
Researchers have discovered the fossil of a massive ant, named Titanomyrma lubei, in Wyoming. The ant was over 2 inches long — roughly the length of a modern-day hummingbird. It’s estimated that the insect reigned about 50 million years ago.
The biggest ant on the planet today is the queen driver ant. She can get up to 2 inches long, but the driver workers and soldiers are much smaller. Giant Amazonian ants and bullet ants can grow over 1 inch long.
Ants are arguably the most astounding creatures on the planet, and this list of facts shows how strong and durable they are. Take care to make your property uninviting for these guests so you won’t have to worry about an infestation.