Ants have a cosmopolitan distribution. They are found on all continents except Antarctica, and only a few large islands, such as Greenland, Iceland, parts of Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands lack native ant species. Ants occupy a wide range of ecological niches and exploit many different food resources as direct or indirect herbivores, predators and scavengers. Most ant species are omnivorous generalists, but a few are specialist feeders. Their ecological dominance is demonstrated by their biomass: ants are estimated to contribute 15–20 % (on average and nearly 25% in the tropics) of terrestrial animal biomass, exceeding that of the vertebrates.
Ants range in size from 0.75 to 52 millimetres (0.030–2.0 in), the largest species being the fossil Titanomyrma giganteum, the queen of which was 6 cm (2+1⁄2 in) long with a wingspan of 15 cm (6 in). Ants vary in colour; most ants are red or black, but a few species are green and some tropical species have a metallic lustre. More than 13,800 species are currently known (with upper estimates of the potential existence of about 22,000; see the article List of ant genera), with the greatest diversity in the tropics. Taxonomic studies continue to resolve the classification and systematics of ants. Online databases of ant species, including AntWeb and the Hymenoptera Name Server, help to keep track of the known and newly described species. The relative ease with which ants may be sampled and studied in ecosystems has made them useful as indicator species in biodiversity studies.
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