The BBC had an entertaining article about the yearly census taken by British zoos to make sure no animals are missing, and all the permits match up. (We do a similar thing here at the bird sanctuary.)

Interestingly, the rules vary quite a bit about what “counts” as an animal:

“British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza) director Miranda Stevenson says: “Once a year, zoos around the country need to check that the number of animals that they have on their computers is the same as the number of animals in their collection.”

….Luckily groups of insects such as ants or locusts are counted as a single colony rather than requiring the laborious task of being checked off as individuals. “But for others like stick insects and beetles we do have to count them one by one,” Mr Spencer adds.

The number-crunching is complicated further still by having to determine the tally of the insects at their various life-stages, separating them into adults, larvae and eggs.”

I wonder why some insects count as one, and some as individuals?  (Aside from the pain-in-the-ass factor to counting lots of ants.)

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. I don’t have a flashy scientific answer, but I bet it’s the PITA factor that allows counting anthills vs ants!

  2. Maybe the fact that they tend to group themselves together as a colony, as opposed to individuals, or smaller groups, makes for a trendy excuse for counting them altogether as one.

  3. The worker ants are more or less disposable, aren’t they? if there was a large colony, if wouldn’t make any difference for the well-being of the colony if some were missing. So, I guess what matters is if the colony is still there or not.

  4. It’s the lazy factor.

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