Ants may be small, but they are smart and intelligent creatures. Some ant species are harmless but are a nuisance, and they invade homes and buildings. They are also excellent swimmers and tough climbers. Yes, ants are tougher than you can imagine. In fact, these fascinating insects are also very strong, and they can lift heavy objects.
So, how strong are ants? Despite their small size, ants were estimated to be able to carry 10 – 50 times their body weight. Aside from that, studies suggest that an ant’s neck is so powerful that it can support 1,000 – 5,000 times the weight of the ant. In terms of humans, that would be a neck of a 150-pound man supporting a weight of 750,000 pounds.
Interestingly, this unbelievable strength of ants is due to a lot of factors. This includes their size, surface area, shape, and how their body is designed. According to scientists, their body structure is intended to withstand a lot more force if necessary. In short, you need to apply some laws of physics so you can appreciate the amazing abilities of ants.
Related: Are Ants the Smartest Insect? | It depends!
Are Ants Strong for Their Size?
Yes, ants are strong for their size. In fact, the amount of their strength is related to the surface area of their cross-section. And because the surface area is a two-dimensional measurement, it is smaller than its volume. Smaller ants tend to be stronger than bigger ones. This is why the smallest ant can carry heavy loads at longer distances.
On the other hand, doubling the size of an ant does not mean it can also carry twice the weight. This is because the surface area of the ant will also be doubled, but its volume will be more than double. Therefore, bigger ants will not have the same proportional strength. It also follows that things that are twice their size will weigh more than twice.
What Makes Ants So Strong?
Unlike vertebrate animals, ants don’t have skeletons inside their bodies. Instead, they have a hard, waterproof exoskeleton. And because their skeleton is outside their body, their internal bones are weightless. Therefore, their muscles don’t need too much energy to carry their body. This leaves them lots of muscle power to lift other objects.
For this reason, ants use their strength in lifting objects, and this is why ants are very strong. This is also the main reason they can lift objects that are bigger and heavier than their bodies. So contrary to what some people think, ants are strong because of their size and their body structure, not because they have strong muscles like weightlifters.
Another thing, ants have very powerful necks. As mentioned earlier, a neck of an ant can support 1,000 – 5,000 times its body weight. It appears that the strength of an ant’s neck is related to its body structure. According to studies, their necks have bumps that help them carry and support the full weight of heavy loads.
Does Ant Shape Have Something to Do With Its Strength?
Yes, the shape of an ant has something to do with its strength. A queen ant and an ant worker have different body shapes, despite having the same set of genes. The queen ant, which is responsible for the reproduction of ants, has wings and a big body. On the other hand, the worker ant is wingless and has a small body. Therefore, they cannot fly.
Also, the first section of the thorax of worker ants is larger and has more muscles as compared to queen ants. This is another reason why their necks are strong and can support heavy loads. According to scientists, these muscles also help them use their heads and mandibles (used for transporting and processing food) for other tough jobs.
Meanwhile, not all queen ants have the same body shapes. Queens of some ant species stay inside their nest and raise the first batch of their colony using the energy in their bodies. Meanwhile, queens from other species leave the nest to forage and hunt for food to feed the young. Therefore, the shape of an ant also depends on its job.
Do Ants Have Other Super Powers?
Yes, some ant species can do other amazing jobs other than lifting heavy objects. Aside from being able to carry objects 50 times their body weight, leafcutter ants are also resourceful farmers. Instead of eating the leaves, these leaf-chewing ants cut them and use them as fertilizer for their larvae’s only source of food, the Lepiotaceae fungus.
Meanwhile, the trap-jaw ant is known for being able to close its jaw very fast, hence the same. Scientifically known as “Odontomachus bauri,” trap-jaw ants can move their mouthparts or mandibles at a whopping speed of 115 – 207 feet per second or 78 – 145 miles per hour. To visualize this, imagine a moving object 2,300 times faster than you blink.
What Is the Strongest Ant?
Generally speaking, all ants are incredibly strong. Nevertheless, the world’s strongest ant is the Asian weaver ant. Unlike other ant species that can lift only 50 times their body weight, Asian weaver ants can carry an object 100 times their body weight.
Scientifically known as “Oecophylla smaragdina,” Asian weaver ants are known to be very territorial and are willing to defend themselves at all costs. They usually feed on insects, and beetles are their favorite prey. This strongest ant species don’t sting, but their bite is quite painful due to the irritant chemicals they release from their abdomen.
As for the Asian weaver ant that was caught on camera lifting a 500-mg weight, the photo won the first prize during the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) science photo competition. What’s more amazing is that the ant carried the heavy load upside down on a smooth surface, using its very powerful jaw!
But why did the Asian weaver ant not fall? Well, they have very sticky footpads that cause the smooth surface to stick together, thus allowing them to hang upside down. Interestingly, they can fold their feet to reduce adhesion if the load is light. And yes, these ants can still walk and run on smooth surfaces despite having those sticky feet.
Are Ants the Strongest Insect?
No, ants are not the strongest insect in the world. Despite being very strong, ants are more than 100 times behind the horned dung beetle, the world’s strongest insect. To be somehow exact, this beetle can lift objects 1,141 times heavier than their body weight! In terms of humans, this is like an average man lifting 2 fully-loaded 18-wheeler trucks.
Dung beetles are usually brown to black, and round, and can grow from 5 to 30 mm long. These super-strong beetles are also tough in almost all kinds of weather. This is why they can be found in almost various habitats worldwide, except Antarctica. This includes deserts, forests, farms, and mountainous regions. They also invade homes.
Scientifically known as “Onthophagus Taurus,” dung beetles are coprophagous insects, which means they eat the poop of other animals, hence the name. As disgusting as it seems, the females build small tunnels and lay their eggs on the poop. This is also where males and females mate. But before that, the males with horns will fight to win the ladies.
How Many Ants Does It Take To Lift a Person?
To know how many ants are needed to lift a person, it’s like asking how many ants can be under a person lying on the floor so they can lift him together. But how many ants can fit under a person? Also, can the ants bear the weight of the person, or will they be crushed instead? Well, disregard the pressure for a while and talk about quantity.
To help you find a numerical answer, assume that the ants are leafcutter ants, which can lift objects 50 times their weight. Assuming that the average body weight of an ant is 5 mg, a single ant can therefore lift 250 mg or 0.25 grams. If the average body weight of a person is 70 kilos (70,000 grams), how many ants can carry this weight?
By simple mathematics, the number of ants needed to carry 70,000 grams of the person is 70,000/0.025 = 2,800,000 ants or 2.8 million ants! But can that quantity of ants fit under a person lying on the floor? To solve that, we need to know how much area a single leafcutter ant can occupy and how much area that person can occupy.
Assuming that an average size of a leafcutter ant is ½ x 1/8 inch, then you can place about 16 ants in one square inch of space. Now, assume that the average height of a person is 5 ft, 9 in (69 inches) and that the average shoulder width of a person is 16 inches. Therefore, that person will have 69 x 16 = 1,104 square inches of space.
In that case, the number of ants that will fit under that person is 1,104 x 16 = 17,664 only! As you can see, 2.8 million is more than 160 times greater than 17,664! Therefore, ants can’t lift a person, no matter how many they are. By the way, an average colony may have about 500,000 ant workers. So, you will need between 5 and 6 ant colonies.
List of Sources
Dillow, C. (2010). Weight Lifting Ant Hefts 100 Times Its Body Weight, Photo Contest Gold. Popular Science.
Ant Factoids. Arizona State University – School of Life Sciences.
Ants of the North Quabbin Region: Body Structure. Harvard Forest – Harvard University.
Dung Beetle Facts. North Carolina.