Imagine an ant the size of a person. Ignoring the mass hysteria and the fact that this is impossible, what could an ant do? Just a single ant. Not a colony. Just one.
Well a Saharan silver ant, Cataglyphis bombycina, can run 100 times its body length in a second. So if an ant of this species was 1.83m tall (6 feet) it would run 183m in a second. That’s 859 Kilometres per hour or 69% the speed of sound! The original Bugatti Veyron was the fastest production car on its release in 2005 and it is half that speed. Planes that could travel faster than this did not exist until the jet age and the cold war! That is pretty fast.
The weaver ant, Oecophylla smaragdina, can hold 100 times its body weight. Upside down. On glass. If it was the weight of an average person it could hold around 8,000kg. That’s the same as almost 4 female African elephants! Pretty nuts when you think about it. All that weight upside down on glass. I am no artist but this is what that would look like:
The smallest ant in the world is Carebara atoma at 1mm in length. To become the size of a human we would have to increase its size by 1,800 times. If we did this for all ants, C.atoma would be 1.8m long. If we size up all ants by this amount, how big would the largest ant be? Take a few moments to guess and no cheating. As I said in a previous post, the largest ant in the world is the driver ant queen, Dorylus sp. At their maximum size they can grow to 8cm long. If we increased this by 1,800 times this ant would be 144m long! That is an unimaginable size difference! I literally triple checked because even I couldn’t believe it. 140m is a big number, but you can’t appreciate it until you see something like this:
When it comes to the sizes of ant nests people always use leaf cutter ants as the go to “look how massive this is” example. Rightfully so. Their nests can be up to 600 square metres. Amazing! But these nests are microscopic compared to the largest nest in the world. Argentine ants, Linepithema humile, will be covered in their own post so this will be a little taster of that. So if my coverage of them seems brief it is because I will explain it all in an upcoming post.
Argentine ants in Europe occupy an area approximately 3.6 million square kilometres. A third of the entire continent. 72% the size of the roman empire. The colony contains millions of queens and billions of workers. The workers are around 1.8mm long, a thousand times smaller than the average person. If we scale them, and their empire up a thousand times how big will their empire be? 3.6 billion km2. In Europe alone. This is only a fraction of their global span but this 1 colony would be that size. That would make their empire cover the entire earth’s surface…6 times…and a bit more! Their empire would completely cover Earth, Venus, Mercury and Mars almost 3 times over. Below is a comparison between the British empire, the largest human empire, and an argentine ant empire at human scales. AND THIS IS JUST THEIR EUROPEAN TERRITORY SCALED UP!
I checked my maths 4 times over for each example, I even got friends to check my maths but yep. This is why ants are impressive. They are truly incredible and deserve admiration. I hope this post has you at least starting to appreciate them. Thanks for reading,
1 square kilometer = 0.386102159 square miles
1 kilometer / hour = 0.621371192 miles / hour
1.83m= 6 feet
1 Imperial ton = 1.01604691 metric tons
Giraud, T., Pedersen, J.S. and Keller, L., 2002. Evolution of supercolonies: the Argentine ants of southern Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(9), pp.6075-6079.
Hölldobler, B. and Wilson, E.O., 1990. The ants. Harvard University Press.
Pfeiffer, M. and Linsenmair, K.E., 2001. Territoriality in the Malaysian giant ant Camponotus gigas (Hymenoptera/Formicidae). Journal of Ethology, 19(2), pp.75-85.
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