A new study released this week "conservatively" estimates there are 20 quadrillion ants on the planet Earth-or about 2.5 million ants for every person.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Germany's University of Wuerzburg, who noted ants are some of the most successful and dominant forms of life on earth but found most estimates of their numbers to be lacking, and, essentially, educated guesses.
In the study, published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they explain they compiled data on both ground and tree-dwelling ants from 489 studies, spanning "all continents, major biomes, and habitats" to arrive at what they call a "conservative" estimate of 20 quadrillion ants, representing a biomass of 12 megatons.
The researchers say this is more than the combined biomass of wild birds and mammals and is equivalent to 20% of human biomass.
In a release from the University of Hong Kong, the researchers explain that having an accurate count of the world's ants and an understanding of their abundance patterns may help preserve ecosystems and species around the world
The study also found ants are unevenly distributed over the global land surface. As a general pattern, ants are more common in tropical regions, but their numbers vary from place to place depending on the ecosystem.
University of Hong Kong School of Biological Sciences researcher Sabine Nooten, a co-lead author on the study, said the ants perform "ecological services" such as decomposition of organic material and pest control in whichever habitat they live.
The senior author of the study, University of Hong Kong researcher Benoit Guenard, said the ant count reflects the scarcity of data on so much of the natural world. He urged governments and societies to be more proactive in getting citizens involved in helping to fill those knowledge gaps.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.