Essay

How Strong Are Ants? Relative Strength Compared to Humans and Other Animals

Have ants ever asked to join you for a picnic? Sometimes the little trail of black-bodied insects goes unnoticed until they’ve taken off with bigger, more noticeable objects, like the breakfast crumbs. It’s not simply a scene from an old cartoon: when ants discover a mass of food, they organize themselves and begin to march off with it, each carrying the largest portion they can manage.

It can appear as though your food has legs and is beginning to move. Why do you ignore the ants until after they’ve taken your bounty? It’s because the bounty is frequently up to 50 times larger than the ant carrying it! Let’s investigate the extraordinary power of ants in relation to their size and how it differs from that of humans and other animals.

Ants: Tiny But Massively Powerful

An adult ant typically weighs only 2 milligrams, so it hardly makes a dent in the scales. These incredibly tiny insects do, however, possess a superpower: despite their tiny size, they are able to pull between 10 and 50 times that weight. A person could easily carry a bull steer if they were that powerful!

Why Do Ants Need To Be So Strong?

Ants have highly specific social functions to play and dwell in colonies. In actuality, almost all ants fulfill the same specialized social role—that of worker ants. The queen is the sole female that does not work; each colony may have as many as 500,000 individual ants in addition to the queen. (It might be worse: you might be a male ant. Yes, worker ants are exclusively female. Male ants only have a brief life cycle: after birth, they try to fertilize a potential queen, and then they perish.)

Within the colony, worker ants can work in a variety of roles. Some build tunnels (imagine an ant farm), while others look after the queen’s young by taking care of them. Still others are tasked with finding food and returning it to the colony. Furthermore, even if the majority of the colony may not be working at any given time, the labor is demanding and taxing.

According to Darwinian evolution theory, a species evolves in increasingly specialized ways that are compatible with its environment over extended periods of time as individuals that are better adapted for survival survive in greater numbers. An exquisite illustration of this principle in action are worker ants. Ants originated more than 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period. Throughout time, they have evolved to the point that most of their bodies are composed of muscle. And this makes sense because building strength is what’s needed to conquer your daily ant goals and make your colony grow and multiply.

How Strong Are Ants Compared to Humans?

Remember that we’re talking proportionately, so you probably don’t have to worry about enormous ants taking over the planet like in That Episode of The Simpsons where Homer travels to Space or The Theme Park. However, you could lift roughly 4,000 pounds, or two tons, if you were, say, bitten by a radioactive ant and endowed with ant-like proportional strength! It’s comparable to being able to carry a Range Rover in your hands.

The Physiology and Anatomy Behind Ant Strength

Let’s examine the mechanisms that underlie ants’ remarkable muscularity, or how their anatomy makes them so strong.

Given that you are a human being and are reading this, it’s likely that you have attempted to carry a large object at some point. And if you’re a human over a certain age, you know that lifting something too heavy the incorrect manner might result in a strained back. It’s likely that you will strain a muscle in your rear torso, or thorax, if you bend down to pick up something heavy from the ground with your upper body. You must kneel down near the weight in order to prevent this, and you must lift with your back and knees rather than your arms or upper torso.

Why is that beneficial? Well, because you’re not putting undue strain on your spine by holding the heavy weight in an uncomfortable or insecure posture, but rather by keeping it close to your backbone. The majority of the ways that people move heavy objects are based on this idea: a backpack carries your belongings across your back; a baby Bjorn rests your child on your chest rather than your shoulders or head; and a wheelbarrow’s handles enable you to comfortably reach a heavy object with your arms.

All of this is possible because the core muscles, which are located around the spine, are the foundation of all human motion. Ants? entirely distinct animal. We’ll clarify.

People Have Spines, Ants Have Exoskeletons

Of course, ants and humans are two entirely different species with entirely distinct evolutionary histories. But that’s also part of the enjoyment in comparing the two of us. Think of your neck as being in the center of you. Now all that incredible strength is coursing through your jaw and cranium. You can now hold the same amount of weight between your teeth as you can on a bench press. Your neck has extraordinary strength and flexibility; you can bend it backward and further, like an owl, even with all that weight in your teeth. Oh, and you can move and stabilize your body with the help of two more appendages. An ant is what you are!

To put it succinctly, worker ants have undergone millennia of evolution to develop bodies that are precisely adapted to the demanding jobs that require strength on a daily basis. Their enormously powerful mandibles, which resemble pincers, are situated on their heads, making them the biological equivalent of excavators. They can also kill prey hundreds of times larger than themselves and transport it over great distances home thanks to their extra leg and bite power. In contrast, a seasoned hiker (a human) will advise you against carrying more than 20% of your body weight on even mild hikes!

How do ants manage to carry such enormous strength? It turns out that their diminutive size is the solution. As it happens, not everything is relative: ants can easily support a robust exoskeleton due to their small size. Ants have muscles packed tightly inside their hard skeleton, as opposed to human muscles organized around a backbone. Moving a little box like this requires a comparatively small amount of muscle power. This implies that such strong ant muscles can be fully dedicated to carrying large objects or powerfully biting victims.

Ants: The World’s Strongest Animal?

Not even! As we previously mentioned, ants have the capacity to lift up to 50 times their own weight, which is equivalent to almost two tons in human terms. Astonished? Let us therefore present to you the Onthophagus taru, also known as the Horned Dung Beetle. It is capable of lifting 1,000 times its own weight. With that type of strength, you could take up six double-decker buses loaded with passengers instead of that weak SUV you’ve been toting around!

In terms of raw power, there are several contenders for the title of Strongest Animal on Earth, excluding body mass: The strongest bite belongs to the crocodile. The strongest ape is the gorilla. On land, the elephant is the most formidable animal. Furthermore, the Whale uses the most force. To add even more subjectivity, the Hippopotamus is the most potent herbivore, the Siberian Tiger is the deadliest predator, and the rhinoceros wins some sort of prize for bulk times strength times speed (they can reach up to 40 miles per hour!). Most likely, anacondas have the strongest squeezing force. The strongest bird on the list, the Harpy Eagle, will complete the list. However, one could counter that none match the ants’ level of organizing power! (Is that something?)