Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes: Sheer Numbers

Feb 5, 2019

As described by Edward O. Wilson — who is perhaps the best known American biologist, researcher, naturalist and author — invertebrates are: "The Little Things That Run the World." And indeed they do, in so many ways.

In terms of numbers — while most invertebrates are pretty small, the sheer number of them is astounding. Together, they have more biomass than any other animal on earth.

At any given time, there are an estimated one billion billion arthropods (that’s insects, arachnids, millipedes, centipedes and crustaceans) alive on earth. Yes, you heard me right — that number is a one followed by 18 zeros.

Narrowing things down to just insects, here are a few bits of information that put these incredible numbers into perspective:

  • There are about 300 pounds of insects for every pound of human on earth.
  • All of the termites in Africa weigh more than all of the elephants in Africa.
  • And amongst all of these insects, the overwhelming majority of them are beetles. With over 350,000 known species, there are six times more beetles than all the species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles put together.

As the true rulers of our planet, it’s important that we understand, as well as appreciate, the impact that insects and other invertebrates have on our lives. We may be much bigger and have more brain capacity, but in terms of their numbers and the critical roles they play in how our planet functions, insects (and their arthropod relatives) truly are "The Little Things That Run the World."

BugBytes is made possible by the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Montana Public Radio. This show is also supported by funding from the Greater Montana Foundation: Encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.