Everything is stronger than you

and I mean everything. The earthworm you saw this morning? He moves so much earth out of the way while burrowing that it makes your car look like it’s towing three dump trucks.. that are trying to drive in reverse.. How strong do you think you really are? Sure, you go to the gym every so often and you lift some weights, or you run along your route 3 times a week, or maybe you’re professionally in shape because you work under the hood of a car all day or sling steel bars at a foundry, or your fingers are so strong they break keyboard keys because of the professional gaming contract you have. All of that.. every profession, listed above or not listed, is peanuts compared to some of the creations of Mother Nature. Take the leafcutter ant for example. It’s able to lift up to 50 times its body weight. To put that into perspective, take me, a large grown man weighing in at 100kg. Do you think I could lift 5000 kg / ~11000 pounds?! The answer is yes, if you’re a single lady in the Greater Toronto Area *flex*. The real answer is no, no human can lift that much, regardless of how much they work out.

What about that aforementioned Leafcutter ant… lifting a human my size? Surely that can’t happen right? But what if we had a colony of these ants? Using the Leafcutter ant as the specific species, here’s the basic facts.

Each healthy ant can lift 50 times their own body weight, which averages at 500 mg. Therefore, each ant can lift 25000 mg, or 0.025kg [Source]. Simple math here, 180lbs = 81.6kg, so 3264 ants to lift them, assuming they are equally spaced out and the human just happened to be a perfect cube shape.

Since the human isn’t a perfect cube shape, then lets break this down further. [This Website] breaks down the percentages of total body weight per segment. I’m going to round up to the nearest whole number, so these numbers may be a bit off, but will give you the jist of it.

  • Head is 5kg, therefore ~200 ants
  • Torso is 56kg, therefore ~2240 ants
  • Both Arms are 8kg, therefore ~320 ants
  • Both legs are 27kg, therefore ~1080 ants

The total ants required to lift this 100kg person is less than 0.4% of the total population of an Urban ant colony. In Canada, urban ant colonies with a single queen laying eggs sit on average of around 700,000 ants.

Evenly spaced out ants along the entire shape of the human body, distributed weight according to average segment size. The above numbers work out to belong to a 100kg weight, averaging female and male weight around the world, so the North American average 80kg weight is a bit underweight compared to the rest of the world.

Assuming all the same situations and scenarios as laid out above, the Goliath Beetle’s stats are:

48 grams adult weight, 850x strength ratio, therefore 40 800 grams or 40.8kg. Jeeeeeeeezus..

I should note that even though the Goliath Beetle could lift an average of 40.8kg, if say the item to be lifted was a 10km long stick of something that weighs 40.8kg, the beetle can’t just crack it’s knuckles, dust their hands with chalk and bench press the item while grunting loudly and calling everyone “bro”…

My understanding of Coleopterists’ jobs, and this is very minimal, that the item can’t be much more than 4 times as large as the beetle itself for it to lift it. So, since the average physical size of a Goliath Beetle is about the size of your closed fist, think of something 4 times that size; A basketball for example would be a good visible comparison. Anything bigger than that, and the beetle is SOL..

(I know beetles don’t have knuckles.. it’s a figure of speech)

Jeff Wilton

Jeff is the founder and owner of Everyday Science Stuff. ESS is a one man operation, with the core belief that all education should be served without crippling debt tuition, without revenue generating ads and without any restrictions of any kind such as paywalls, forced login and account creations, geographical restrictions, and so on.

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2 Responses

  1. MelKaven says:

    So, I wonder, are there enough ants in the world to literally lift the entire biological weight of the human species?

    • Jeff says:

      You’d need about 1,888,400,604,009,600 ants to lift all of humanity as of this comment time, which is well under the estimated amount of ants on Earth. Broadly speaking, combining all species of known ants, there is roughly a 1000:1 ratio of ants to humans, so if we sit at 7.240 billion humans, then we’re short by 1,881,160,604,009,600 ants required. That’s just humanity, we still need to factor in the entire animal kingdom, but there’s no sense in that now since we’re already almost 2 quadrillion ants short 😛

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