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Q: Biomass of insects ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Biomass of insects
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: monroe22-ga
List Price: $6.00
Posted: 22 Jun 2005 16:40 PDT
Expires: 22 Jul 2005 16:40 PDT
Question ID: 536123
Recently I came across a factoid which informed us that the total
biomass (weight) of ants is greater than the biomass of all human
beings. This is difficult to believe, considering how many ants would
be needed to equal the weight of an average human, and that there are
6 billion of us. Then, considering the huge variety of insects, are we
poor humans so greatly outweighed by all insects? Is the initial
statement true, and if so, how bad is it in relation to all insects?
Makes one shudder.
Subject: Re: Biomass of insects
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 22 Jun 2005 17:28 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Yikes! Apparently this factoid is true:

"Ants are arguably the greatest success story in the history of
terrestrial metazoa. On average, ants monopolize 15-20% of the
terrestrial animal biomass, and in tropical regions where ants are
especially abundant, they monopolize 25% or more."

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States
of America: In search of ant ancestors

"According to Hölldobler and Wilson (1990), up to 1/3 (33%) of the
terrestrial animal biomass (NOTE: not including aquatic animal, or
terrestrial and aquatic flowering plants and microorganisms) was made
up of ants and termites. A study made in Finland produced a
terrestrial animal biomass of ants alone of 10%.  In the Brazilian
rain forest the biomass of ants exceeds that of terrestrial
vertebrates by four times! Thus a figure for ants of 15% of all
terrestrial animal biomass is not out of line. I would doubt that they
are 15% of all living things because plants and microorganisms make up
a large part of the earth's biomass and the biomass of marine
organisms (none of which are ants) is usually not included in such


Hölldobler, Bert, and E. O. Wilson. 1990. The Ants. Harvard University 
Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

LaSalle, J., and I. D. Gauld. 1993. Hymenoptera and Biodiversity. C.A.B. 
International, Oxon, U.K." 

Mad Scientist Network: Percentage of biomass made up by ants

"Ants are everywhere on earth. When combined, all ants in the world
weigh about as much as all humans (Hölldobler & Wilson 1994)...

Hölldobler B. & Wilson E. O. (1994). Journey to the Ants. Belknap
Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Shinshu University: Effects of food rewards offered by ant-plant
Macaranga on the colony size of ants

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Hölldobler and Wilson is often
cited as the definitive study of ants. It appears to be the main
source of the estimates of ants' biomass which appear all over the

Amazon: The Ants

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: biomass ants mammals OR humans

Google Scholar: biomass ants mammals OR humans

Thanks for an interesting (if creepy) question, Monroe. I'm starting
to think that if I want to guarantee my success in the future, I may
want to look into aphid farming. On the other hand, I am discomfited
by the fact that not only do ants outweigh humans, but so do a couple
other kinds of critters. Termites, krill, and squid are often

"The biomass of the human population is substantial, but not the
greatest. Antarctic Krill accounts for 2-5 the biomass of humans, and
all species of both squid and termites exceed human biomass."

Brain Off: Emergent Decision Making in Modern Virtual Societies 

Calamari, here I come!

monroe22-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Pink: You did it again. Thanks for the fast response, even if it is
somewhat stomach-churning. We have all read somewhere that after a
nuclear holocaust, insects will rule the world. Yechhh...songbirds
would be preferable.

Subject: Re: Biomass of insects
From: pinkfreud-ga on 23 Jun 2005 11:19 PDT
Many thanks for the five stars and the generous tip!

When I told my husband about these scary statistics, he suggested that
we humans all need to eat at McDonald's more often. That would
probably double our collective biomass in just a few months. ;-)


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