The ant myth busted

Nature documentaries can be absolutely amazing. You get to watch creatures in their natural habitat performing some amazing feats. If you have seen the BBC Earth documentary where the iguana tries to flee from some snakes, you will know exactly what I mean, if you haven’t, go straight to YouTube and be amazed. Yet sometimes the narrators of these documentaries make claims that seem almost too astounding to be true. In a recent documentary called The Wonder of Animals, it was stated that all of the ants in the world weigh the same or more than all the humans in the world. 

While an impressive statistic it just doesn’t seem possible. First of all the idea of being able to measure the weight of all the ants in the world sounds incredibly difficult. Where would you start? Digging into the claim a little more it appears to have been made a number of times, originally in 1994 by a Harvard professor. 

When you look at this math, it leaves a lot to be desired. They based their work on a prior hypothesis that at any given moment there are one million trillion insects in the world. They decided that at least 1% of these were ants and so came up with an ant population of ten thousand trillion. Easy, a little too easy.

Even if we let them get away with this estimate, they are still way off. 10,000 trillion ants weighing in at an average of 1 to 5mg would come to somewhere in the region of 40bn kg. Humans, on the other hand, weigh in total about 332bn kg. The story just doesn’t add up. When you factor in that others estimate that there are only 100 trillion ants, the numbers really start to fall apart.

While we are sure that the documentary was simply trying to make the point that there are a lot of ants in the world, it would be better if they had stuck to the facts to do so. The next time you are watching a nature doc, don’t believe everything you are told.