If you’ve ever left the sugar jar open in spring, chances are you had an army of tiny sugar ants invading your kitchen. Or perhaps you accidentally sat on an anthill once and were left with a bunch of itchy bites. It’s true that ants can be extremely irritating, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a world without them? What would happen if ants went extinct? Keep reading as we explore the answer to this question and more.
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What Would Happen if Ants Went Extinct?
Though ants are often seen as an annoyance, they are actually extremely beneficial. Let’s take a look at some of the effects we would experience if ants were to go extinct.
Soil Aeration Would Be Affected
The term soil aeration has to do with the small air bubbles and hollow pockets in the soil that keep it light and loose.
Most ants create impressive networks of tunnels through the soil. In doing so, they improve soil aeration, which has several benefits.
Aerated soil drains better because water can pass through it more easily. As ants create their tunnels, they move bits of soil and decaying matter around, improving the soil’s overall quality by redistributing the minerals and nutrients.
If ants were to go extinct, the soil wouldn’t be as well-aerated as it is now. This would affect crop growth, as the soil quality would go down, roots wouldn’t be able to breathe as well, and most importantly, plants would not receive as much water and nutrients as they need.
Soil Would Be Less Fertile
Ants improve soil fertility by dragging leaves and plant matter down into their tunnels. Some of this plant matter they eat; the rest eventually begins to decay, adding valuable nutrition to the soil and improving its overall quality.
Some types of ants also support and assist with decaying animals and insects as well. They carry off bits of the carcass, distributing it over a large area, helping it break down more quickly, and adding more nutrients to the soil.
If ants went extinct, soil quality would go down and plants wouldn’t grow as well as they do now because the soil simply wouldn’t be as fertile.
Pest Insects Would Increase
Many ants also eat small organisms and insects that are harmful to crops. Some even eat insects many times larger than themselves.
This is part of the natural progression of life inside the ecosystems in which ants live. If ants weren’t eating these insects and organisms, their numbers would increase and they could become even greater pests than they are now.
If ants were to go extinct, you could expect the numbers of many other kinds of insects to start going up.
Food Chain Could Collapse
Ants are a foundational part of the food chain. They keep pests at a minimum and help improve soil quality so that plants, including crops we depend on, will grow well.
More than that, ants even help with seed distribution. They frequently carry the seeds of different kinds of plants into their tunnels, where the seeds often begin to sprout because of the improved soil quality.
Many animals and insects eat ants as one of their major food sources. If the food source dies, so will the creatures that depend on that food source.
If ants went extinct, plants would not grow as well and many creatures would starve from losing their food source. These changes would have a snowball effect that would eventually begin to impact the food supply of humans.
Check out this video to learn more about why ants are so important.
Are Ants in Danger of Going Extinct?
According to ThoughtCo, there are at least 12,000 species of ants in the world, and the total number of ants outnumber humans by one and a half million to one.
Considering these numbers, it seems fairly unlikely that ants would be in danger of extinction, yes?
The truth is, ant populations have been declining along with many other insects. There may be a lot of ants in the world, but it is relatively easy to kill off large numbers of them with a single sweep.
As pesticides become more and more common, ants may be eradicated from large areas of the earth. These areas may begin to experience the negative effects of ant extinction (or extirpation) as discussed above–declining soil quality and changes to the food chain, for example.
Sometimes, when new and invasive species of pests and animals are introduced in an area, the native species suffer. This can be true of ants from time to time, specifically when their predators are introduced to an area where they haven’t previously existed.
There are other factors that also contribute to ant population declines. These factors include climate change, inorganic fertilizer use, and even the use of some types of artificial lighting.
How to Keep Ants from Going Extinct?
While it’s impossible for a single person to save an entire world of insects, there are things you can do to support ant populations in your own neighborhood. Let’s take a look at some of these things.
- Reduce pesticide use: Refrain from using pesticides as much as possible in your yard, garden, or land. If you can, avoid using them altogether, or only use products that will not affect ants.
- Avoid bug zappers and UV lights: Bug zappers and UV lights are intended to attract insects, then kill them with large amounts of heat and radiation. If you have these kinds of lights around your property, consider getting rid of them to avoid killing ant populations.
- Keep predators away: If you know there are non-native species or even native species in your area that target ants, find out how to keep them away from your property. You may be able to use deterrents that will not harm ants and will, instead, allow your yard to be a safe haven for them.
Most people don’t care much for ants, but they are actually quite beneficial to the environment. Some of the benefits they provide include improving soil aeration and quality, controlling pests, and supporting the food chain.