Ants – The Strongest There Is?
In comic-books and movies, the Hulk likes to brag how he is, “The strongest there is.” Well, ants would maybe give Bruce Banner’s green alter-ego a run for his money! Just how strong are ants? Well, thanks to the strength of their neck joints it is estimated they can lift 5,000 times their weight and carry/move-around with 1,000 times their weight with little difficulty. Also, as ants work together they can carry objects even larger when working in unison. Ants are one of the strongest animals there are and it is worth exploring how they are so strong relative to their size.
Are Ants Stronger Than Humans and if so Then How Are They So Strong?
The most weight a human has ever been able to dead-lift above their head was 580 pounds. The maximum weight a human has lifted to their waist-level is 1008 pounds. Most humans would struggle to lift even 99 pounds above their head, however, and meanwhile, ants shrug at such a task, with some species easily able to lift 5,000 times their weight and carry 1,000 times their weight with little difficulty.
Ants are so strong that they carry their own dead! It’s so fascinating that we wrote a whole article about it: Why Do Dead Ants Attract More Ants?
How much would an ant lift if it was a human?
Oh, and in case you were wondering what would happen if an ant tried to lift or carry too much weight, its head would literally fall off. This is due to the fact that ants muscles are not especially impressive compared to other animals, it is the strength of their neck. A full-sized human is, of course, stronger than an ant in general terms (a single ant could not lift a whole slice of pizza), but relatively speaking ants are incredibly stronger than humans.
Why Ants can lift heavy things?
It is worth noting that the fact ants are actually so strong also comes from their small size. An ant’s volume is incredibly small compared to a human and has an exoskeleton–its skeleton is on the outside of its body. As the skeleton is not supporting an ant’s muscles it can focus on other tasks–such as assisting with the joint-strength found in the neck and jaw. This all proportional, however, so an ant that could theoretically be made larger (let’s imagine it has the ability to grow or shrink) would lose a degree of its relative strength as it grew.
What’s the heaviest thing an ant can carry?
Hence, if you even double the size of a theoretical Ant you have to divide its theoretical strength thanks to its small volume just as much. In other words, a human-sized ant would find itself much less able to carry greater weight relative to its size–e.g. a human-sized ant won’t be able to pick-up a house, it will probably only be able to manage picking-up that slice of pizza the same as you. That is, assuming the fact its body is not meant to be so big does not cause it to die immediately first.
Basically, a mixture of mathematical concepts with surface area, volume, and physics are what help those small ants thrive while a human-sized ant would struggle. Think about how elephants are large and strong for their general size but by no means relatively stronger (this will be touched upon again later), that small volume is one key to an ant’s strength. In raw numbers just how strong are ants though?
How Much Can an Ant Lift?
In actual numbers, one simply needs to do some math to determine what exactly an ant is capable of lifting in actual numbers. Assuming the average ant weights up to about 5mg and can theoretically lift 5000 times its weight, that would mean an individual ant could pick-up 25,000mg or .055 pounds.
To help put these numbers in perspective it can be helpful to think of pill sizes. Consider a daily vitamin and how a decent-sized one that is still possible to swallow is about 1,000 mg. Go ahead multiply that pill by 25 and you’ve got approximately the weight an ant can theoretically lift. It goes without saying that would be quite a pill!
Now, it was discussed how ants can maybe pick-up 5,000 times their body-weight but moving it around is difficult, with 1,000 times their weight being easier to actually move around with. This means an ant could easily carry about 5,000 mg without too much trouble, a still sizable theoretical pill you’d have to cut-up a number of times to have any chance of swallowing!
Plus, we are talking about a single ant here, when one imagines a group of ants sharing the load of some heavy weight that makes it easy to picture why sometimes a large group of ants has been spotted carrying together something as hefty as a dead bird, rat, or other quite-large meal.
How Strong Are Ants Relative to Other Insects?
While ants are without a doubt very strong, they are by no means the only insects known for being able to move significant weight around. Other insects can handle quite a load, with one notable example being the Dung Beetle. True to its name, the Dung Beetle will roll-around piles of excrement from an assortment of animals that it will eat as food. These poop-balls it forms can be over 1,000 times its size and look very impressive (and a little gross) rolling along as the insect navigates its future meal to a safe place.
It is also noteworthy that while fleas do not have much strength when it comes to carrying objects, they have some incredibly powerful legs. A flea can jump over 200 times its own body length, essentially rocketing-up into the air when the time comes to seek-out a new host or avoid danger. Oh, and bees are impressive strength-wise too when a person takes the time to consider how hard those wings are working to carry a bee’s weight through the sky so effortlessly. Clearly wide assortment insects have different strengths depending on if they need to roll balls of excrement, jump far, or carry their weight through the air. If you’re interested in this subject, we have a whole article about the strongest bugs: The Top 10 Strongest Bugs
Relatively Speaking Are Ants Stronger Than Elephants?
Yes, without a doubt, ants are relatively stronger than elephants. The general strength of an elephant is incredible, able to push-over a tour bus that drives into its way should it be in a cranky mood. Relatively, however, the elephant’s body is doing a lot of work to keep it functioning and therefore requires a lot of food and a body-shape that is able to manage so much size and weight. Due to those earlier mentioned mathematical elements of volume, surface area, and such we find the laws of physics are basically why elephants have those short legs compared to their body–long legs would be too strained to carry all that volume! These means were an ant to magically be made the size of an elephant it would have a body-shape horribly inappropriate for its size and literally collapse on itself in quite a gruesome fashion.
Can an elephant be killed by an ant?
With that said, as long as our theoretical ant is not suddenly turned into a huge elephant it has the relative strength advantage thanks to its small volume. With this in mind, an elephant that could be shrunk-down magically to the size of an ant would also have a body that is not at all well-tuned for such an environment and–you guessed it– dies horribly. Basically, millions of years of evolution have helped to ensure all creatures that survive and thrive are the correct volume and have body-types. Throw that out of wack with magical shrinking-or-growing scenarios and these creatures simply would not be able to exist.
What are the Strongest Species of Ants?
In terms of relative strength when the question arises which species of ant is the strongest, the answer you’ll hear is, “The Leafcutter ant, without a doubt.” Between how well they work together (such as carrying a dead animal like the mentioned birds and mice) and how much strength a single one has, the Leaftcutter ant is the kind to think of when considering ants that can carry 1,000 times their weight and lift 5,000 times their weight. Some species can come close to these numbers as well, but the Leafcutter ant is the champ. Leafcutter ants are very interesting for lots of other reasons, too, read What Can Ants Eat? to find out more.
How Strong Are an Ant’s Jaws?
Ants’ jaws (also known as mandibles) can be incredibly fast and can grip like nobody’s business. Species such as the Trap-Jaw ant can close at over a hundred miles per hour with a force that quickly immobilizes and kills prey (or a potential opposing ant). Not all ants have jaws this speedy, but their ability to grip is still key. After all, as strong as an ant’s neck may be to carry immense weight, it has to be able to grip tightly onto what it is carrying!
When it comes to their strength relative to their size ants are amazing creatures. While a number of insects might have strength ants are incredible to witness lifting weight thousands of times larger than they are. Thanks to complex mathematics such as volume and surface area the small size of ants allows them to have this incredible ability, but at the cost of being so small as a human-sized ant would literally not be able to survive with its body-shape.
With this in mind ants are relatively stronger than lots of other animals such as elephants, but comparing them is a bit unfair as they both are evolved to survive at their current size (an ant-sized elephant would be no more functional than an elephant-sized ant). Ants are incredibly strong when you look at things from a relative viewpoint, and the raw numbers are still pretty impressive when you witness a group of ants moving a sizable future-snack like a dead bird or mouse. Compared to humans ants are a lot stronger, but again, it is all relative. You still are way stronger than an ant in terms of the actual weight you can pick-up. With that said, if a magical way is ever devised to make ants bigger without any nasty side-effects from the laws of physics, look-out, they’ll be winning all the weight-lifting championships for sure!
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