Some scientists make educated guess as to the number of ants on Earth

It’s time for junk science! By combing through thousands of research papers, a team of scientists have estimated the Earth’s population of ants numbers approximately 20 quadrillion.

So for the work, researchers combed through 12,000 reports from databases in many languages, including Bulgarian and Indonesian, finding 489 studies with rigorous enough methods of collecting and counting ants to be included. Most of the studies were not focused on ants per se but on larger questions of biodiversity and evolution and just happened to sample ants. The team was surprised to find how concentrated ants are in the tropics, being most plentiful there in savannas and moist forests.

This estimate is 2 to 20 times higher than previous guesses. It is also a somewhat pointless exercise, mostly because there is no way to check the number. It is simply an educated guess, from which little real knowledge can be gleaned.

Ants in space!

By studying the behavior of eight colonies of ants sent to ISS, scientists have discovered that ants can adapt to weightlessness, though they do not do quite as well as their gravity-bound counterparts.

To start the experiment, a barrier was removed that allowed them to explore a new area. After a few minutes, a second barrier was lifted, expanding the available territory even further. “The idea is to ask the ants to search a small space – and then provide more space and see what will happen when the same number of ants have to use a larger space,” Prof Gordon explained. Equivalent experiments were also run back on Earth, for comparison.

Down on ground level, adding extra space and dropping the “density” of ants caused them to adjust their paths, covering more ground and spreading out much more. In this way, nearly every corner of the container was visited by more than one ant within five minutes. The ants in space still did their best to search, moving out into the expanded area as expected – but they were nowhere near as effective as their counterparts on the ground, which had the luxury of normal gravity.