MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What is an ants speed in proportion to a human?

Date: Tue May 15 17:41:53 2001
Posted By: Thomas M. Greiner, Assistant Professor of Anatomy / Physical Anthropology
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 988889862.Zo

What is an ant’s speed in proportion to a human?

Believe it or not, this is a really tough questions that enters into all 
sorts of issues on the appropriateness of scaling, what scaling method to 
use, and what features are you allowing to change. 

As a biological problem, size changes are not trivial issues. There are 
important biological reasons why ants do not grow as large as humans. 
Science fiction movies can be fun, but a human sized ant would crush 
itself under its own body weight – its exoskeleton would not be able to 
support the ant. So, I could cop-out and say that a human sized ant 
wouldn’t be able to move at all – the speed would be zero!

But, let’s look at this in a more fun way. I don’t know how fast ants can 
move, so I’m going to reverse the question and work on the speed of an ant 
sized human. First, I should point out that similar issues would be 
involved, and a human – that looked like a human – would have trouble 
staying alive if it were ant sized. But enough with the pedantic ramble, 
and start with some assumptions

A typical human is 150 cm tall and travels about 75cm with each step 
taking about 1 step per second. That means that the typical human moves at 
about 2700 meter per hour. (These number are not accurate, but they are close. I 
choose them to make the math easier).

Now assume that the typical ant is 1 cm long. Following strict proportions 
means that the ant sized human would travel 1/150 as fast or 18 meters per hour, 
which would be about 0.5 cm per second. Not very fast.

(Not by editor: A typical speed of a large ant is 300 meters per hour - but this 
varies of course much with the species of ant. J Ziesmann)

If you want to get into the real biomechanics of these issues, which would 
tell you why a real experiment like this would never work, you might want 
to consult these books:

McGowan, C. (1999) A Practical Guide to Vertebrate Mechanics. Cambridge 
University Press

Alexander, R. McNeill (1989) Dynamics of Dinosaurs & Other Extinct Giants. 
Columbia University Press.

If you want to learn much about ants:
Bert Hölldobler and EO Wilson (1990) The Ants, Springer Verlag, Berlin

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