Ants have a reputation for being everywhere – from the sidewalk to the sugar bowl and everywhere in between. And the truth is that they really are almost everywhere, they’re a part of everyday life for nearly everyone on the planet. You know there are a lot of them around, but just how many types of ants exist? This article will delve into the world of ants, exploring their numbers, species, ecological importance, and more, so be sure to keep reading.
How Many Ants Are There on Earth?
Before diving into how many different types of ants roam the Earth, it’s important to look at how many ants there are in general. Of the estimated 10 quintillion individual insects living on Earth, approximately 10 to 100,000 trillion are ants.
To put this into perspective, their combined biomass rivals that of humans! Though it is incredibly difficult to provide an exact headcount due to their vast range and sheer number, they are officially the most common creature on the planet and are astonishingly populous.
Here’s another fun fact for you: Ants are found everywhere on Earth, excluding Antarctica. That’s right, despite the word ‘ant’ appearing in the name, ants are not one of the animals that live in Antarctica.
How Many Types of Ants Are There?
Now that you know there are around 100,000 trillion ants on Earth, it’s time to break this number down further and explore how many different types of ants make up this staggering number.
Experts have identified more than 12,000 species to date – but this is a very conservative estimate due to the same issues as outlined above about the sheer number of individual ants and their vast range.
Although there is still a ton of work to do to identify more ant species and subspecies, experts think there’s more likely upwards of 22,000 (again very conservative) ant species around the world. From tiny inconspicuous ants that end up in your sugar bowl to large aggressive ants that can take down a tarantula, and from ants that are docile and harmless to those that have the most painful stings of all insects, no two ant species are the same. Speaking of…
What Are The Different Types of Ants?
Across the 12,000 plus species that have been identified, ants vary greatly in size, color, behavior, and habitat preferences. While, unfortunately, all of the thousands of ant types can’t be listed, here is a quick introduction to four different types of ants.
1. Black Garden Ants
What’s the first type of ant that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘ant’? Chances are, it is the black garden ant. This extremely common ant is found all across North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Black garden ants usually live in underground nests in (you guessed it!) gardens in colonies that are between 4,000 and 6,000 ants strong. They are harmless.
2. Bullet Ants
Then there are the legendary bullet ants which, thankfully, are contained to Central and South American rainforests. Facts about bullet ants will make your skin crawl – their 24-hour sting is the most painful insect sting possible, and it's delivered by a stinger that is between 1 to 3mm long. They’re also one of the bigger ants around, reaching sizes of up to 1.2 inches long. Each bullet ant colony will be between 700 to 1,400 ants large, proving once more that size doesn’t matter.
3. Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants are like nature's tiny little woodworkers. As the name suggests, this type of ant makes its nests inside rotten wood like tree trunks or stumps, as well as sheds, lumber piles, and wooden houses. Carpenter ant colonies are generally made up of around 50,000 ants. They can bite humans but rarely do so.
4. Fire Ants
Last but not least are fire ants: a ground of aggressive stinging ants that are known for their reddish-brown color, not to mention the painful stings and the burning sensation they bring with them. Fire ants were native to a handful of South American countries to start with, but after an accidental immigration, nowadays they’re found all over America, Australia, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Fire ant colonies consist of between 100,000 to 500,000 ants.
Are Ants Important?
Ants are praised for their complex social structures and – for something so small -- they play a HUGE role in ecosystems, contributing to a variety of processes including nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, breaking down organic matter, and pest control.
In addition to the great work they do for plants and animals in their environments, ants are important to humans too. For scientists, other than being the subjects of numerous studies, ants are what is known as an indicator species – meaning they serve as indicators of the impact of environmental health issues such as climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution. Far more than just a pest at picnics, right?