The Hills are Alive


It was an ambitious project that though it failed would become part of the iconography of a decade in september nineteen ninety one the first term residents moved in to biosphere to a three acre volume built to be an artificial materially closed ecological system biosphere one being the earth itself a texas oil billionaire. Funded it to study. How people might one day be able to manage a self sustaining ecosystem for life on mars. It proved to be a lot harder in practice than it was on paper. The oxygen levels would drop too low. The crew didn't really know how to grow crops for food. Their pollinator soon died out and the ants moved in not just any aunts crazy ants. My name's moxy and this is your brain on facts. They go marching to by two. They're the subject of to cgi movies from nineteen ninety. Eight and a picnic wouldn't be complete without them today. We're talking about ants. This topic comes to you by popular demand to social media comments an email. That's a new record. So thanks to rachel. A prodigious and kate from strange animals podcast. We really should think about ants more often than we do considering how many of them there are. I've often enjoyed dropping the fact that the ant population is equal to the human population by weight. But is it. The claim comes from one thousand nine hundred ninety four book journey to the ants by harvard university professor and a german biologist. They based their estimate on the estimate of a british entomologist who calculated that the number of insects alive on earth at any given moment was one million trillion. If ants make up one percent of the insect world that's ten thousand trillion according to the book individual workers weigh on average between one two five milligrams according to the species when combined all ants in the world taken together way about as much as all human beings. So if you're going to play on a seesaw with a bunch of ants you would need about a million of them on the other end to balance you out assuming you weigh sixty two kilos or about one hundred and thirty seven pounds which i will tell you. I don't with around thirteen thousand ant species worldwide. There comes a lot of variety. They range from smallest less than one millimeter long to over fifty millimeters or two inches. That's the aptly named titanic mira gigante so weights vary too but experts seem to agree the average weight of an ant is less than ten milligrams but even among experts. No one really knows how many aunts there are in the world. A bbc documentary claims. There are not ten trillion ants but one hundred trillion though it still suggests that the total weight of the ants equals the total weight of humans. Even by the author's own math their calculations are wrong. If we estimate that the seven point two billion humans on the planet weigh a combined three hundred and thirty two billion kilos or three hundred sixty six million tons and ten thousand trillion aunts weighing an average of four milligrams. Each we get only forty billion kilos or forty four million tonnes or about nine pounds of human for every pound of ants even if we allow for the smaller human population in one thousand nine hundred eighty four and the smaller humans. It's still back of napkin. Math at best one expert does say that the numbers might have inaccurate at one time. Probably about two hundred and fifty years ago. We must also remember that. Humans are getting fatter all the time. We're not just increasing in population we're increasing in fatness. So i think we've left the ants behind another way to try to wrap your head around. How many aunts there are is to look at the biomass of them. One of my favourite weird history and animated rant youtube channels sam annella compared the biomass of several animals and visualized them as spheres literal animal planet's for example. If all the blue whales in the world could be mushed together like plato. They'd make a spheroid about one hundred and forty meters or four hundred and fifty feet across blue. Whales are huge but there aren't very many of them. In contrast the chicken planet is more than twice that size three hundred and thirty meters or eleven hundred feet across their small. But we've read a lot of them. The math was tricky enough. What with trying to come up with a density for each animal. But sam found order of

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