While we usually only think about ants as those pesky little bugs that like to crash our picnics, ants actually have a fascinating history and biology. From their age to their strength, here are some fun and weird facts you didn’t know about ants.

They Don’t Have Lungs

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Image via Flickr by marknenadov

Because ants are so small, they don’t have room in their bodies for a respiratory system like ours. Instead, they have their own unique way of circulating oxygen through their bodies. Ants have holes on the sides of their bodies called spiracles that allow them to breathe in oxygen. A network of tubes in their bodies takes oxygen from these holes and distributes it to nearly¬†every cell. These tubes also release carbon dioxide as the ants move. Plus, because they don’t have lungs, most ants can survive up to 24 hours underwater.

They’re As Old As Dinosaurs

Humans have been on Earth for around 200,000 years. While that seems like a long time, scientists believe ants have been here since the mid-Cretaceous period, which was 110 to 130 million years ago. This means ants shared the planet with some of the most recognizable dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor. It also means they survived the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs and an ice age.

There Are More Ants Than People

With a population of around seven billion, you might think there are more people on this planet than any other animal. However, you would be wrong. Scientists currently estimate there are around 10 quadrillion ants on Earth. That means there are about one million ants for every one human. With these numbers, it’s not surprising that ants live almost everywhere. Except for the Arctic, Antarctica, and a few small, isolated islands, you’ll find at least one native ant species on every continent.

They Have Two Stomachs

If you ever watch ants closely, you might notice they sometimes look like they’re kissing. This isn’t a sign of affection though; one ant is actually feeding the other from its second stomach. Ants have one stomach where they hold and consume their own food and another stomach where they hold food to share with other ants. This lets the colony work very efficiently because ants that forage for food can feed those that stay behind to tend to the nest or queen.

They’re Incredibly Strong

Although small in size, ants are mighty in strength. Most ants can carry somewhere between 10 and 50 times their body weight. Amazingly, the Asian weaver ant can lift 100 times its own body weight. The reason ants are so strong is actually because they’re small. Because they’re so tiny, their muscles are thicker than those in larger animals so they produce more force. Ants have even been observed working together in small groups to move very large objects.

The next time you see an ant scurrying down the sidewalk, take a moment to appreciate what a complex and interesting animal it is.