It takes a lot of poop to fertilize the rainforests of Barro Colorado. Ten tons, in fact.
This isn’t imported manure either. The homegrown waste that powers the plants of this oxygen factory is created in-house. Up in the rainforest canopy, billions of ants produce at least 10 tons of feces every day.
It’s a dirty job, but the ants are up to the task.
“Ants collectively build nests whose size can reach several thousand times that of individual ants,” CNRS reports.
In the Barro Colorado, ant nests can reach up to 9 feet long, and house millions of diligent workers. Measuring the amount of waste produced by a few different colonies, researchers from the Smithsonian were able to estimate how much biomass is being produced on a daily basis.
Enough to fertilize the entire forest, with some to spare, it seems. The ant waste has 4 times as much nitrogen as ordinary soil, 6 times as much potassium, and 16 times as much phosphorous.
Almost 300,000 pounds of poop fell onto the Barro Colorado during the Smithsonian’s research excursion, but without the knowledge and tools to measure it, the world may never have known.
Learn more about the unique role ants play in fertilizing rainforests below!
Want to learn more about some incredible insects? Click the button below and read about the hard-working pollinators that keep our plants in bloom.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.