MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: will the total mass of termites exceed that of any other land species?

Date: Mon Dec 13 09:12:18 1999
Posted By: Justin Roux, Engineering and Physiological Scientist.
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 945047321.Zo

Hello there!

What a question. What a wonderful, wonderful question. It just so happens 
that I have the answer to this one on the tip of my tongue, but am I 
prepared to be the adjudicator between you and your friend? Maybe if you 
invite me to the lunch!

I answer this question so many times a week, because so many people ask me 
why I am so interested in insects. I reel off the following facts:

95% of all the world's species are insects.
New species of insect are being discovered on an almost daily basis, and 
there is no sign of this trend letting up.
If Noah were to fill his Ark again with two of every species, every fourth 
pair would not be just an insect, but specifically a beetle.
Some scientists estimate that 30% of the biomass of the Amazon basin is 

Now to your question. I'm afraid that Termites compete with ants for the 
title you describe and because the two come from entirely different 
orders, I cannot sit on the fence about my answer. Taxonomy (the species 
naming convention) runs in the following way: Kingdom, phylum, class, 
order, family, genus, species. In the identification of ants and termites 
we can name Kingdom, phylum, and class as Animalia, Arthropoda, Insecta 
(or uniramia) and then they split. Termites belong to their own order 
called Isopoda encompassing terrestrial and arboreal species, whereas ants 
are a family 'Formicoidae' of the order 'Hymenoptera'. 

It seems reasonable by modern estimates that ants make up about 10% of the 
earth's total biomass, and that termites could make up a similar figure 
again although due to their more widespread nature and more precise 
taxonomy, ants are regarded as having clinched the title as largest single 
constituent group of the earth's biomass.

Whoever buys lunch, make mine a red apple and Brie sandwich with lettuce 
and raisins. If it's a picnic, watch out for the ants..... and the 


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