Ants are a creature that most of us hate to see in our household but are fascinated by on TV. The army of little workers will go to incredible lengths to feed their families and are able to work together in a way that is simply astounding. Yet if you have ever had an infestation of ants in your home you will hate them. You kill one ant and more come back. The population can seem endless. It is this seemingly endless population that gave rise to that notion that if all the ants in the world were put on a scale together, they would weigh the same as all the humans in the world. While we didn’t find a scale big enough to test the theory, we tried to solve it in a few other ways. Read on to find out if ants are really so heavy.
This belief seems to originate from the early 90s when a book was published called Journey to the Ants. It made the claim that all the ants in the world weigh roughly the same as all the humans. This claim has since been treated as fact and repeated in numerous writings and documentaries to date. Yet the claim by Edward O Wilson and Bert Hoelldobler, the authors of the book, appears to have been based on some loose mathematics.
They found one scientist who had estimated that at any given time there were one million trillion insects in the world. They decided if 1% of these were ants and they weighed on average between 1 and 5mg they would equal the weight of humans around the world. In theory it sounds ok.
However, they based that calculation on the average human weighing a million times more than the average ant. In reality that is not true. The average human is 62kg, this would make the average ant 60mg. While some ants are this size, it is very rare and they much bigger than the average ant in your garden
The best estimate for the weight of humans is is 332bn kg. If we assume the 10,000 trillion number of ants (based on the 1%) is correct and that they weigh 4mg, then they would still come nowhere near the weight of humans as in total they would be just over 40bn kg.
The claim may have held some truth many many years ago when the human population was much lower (and a little slimmer) but today we are far too big and far too many for even the ant to compete with.