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Tropical ant

Brand X Pictures/Getty Images/Brand X

At Collected Wisdom this week, we are out in the verdant rooftop garden of our executive penthouse, counting insects. Okay. One, two, three, er – darn it. One, two, three. … This is impossible. They just won't stay still.

THE QUESTION

Pierre G. Gagnon of Oakville, Ont., wonders how many insects there are (approximately) for every person on Earth.

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THE ANSWER

CW decided to do its own research on this one, and consulted the Encyclopedia Smithsonian.

This online resource tells us that there are an estimated 10 quintillion insects on Earth. That's 10 followed by 18 zeros. Taking the Earth's human population at seven billion, that means there are 1,428,571,428.57 insects for every person on the planet. Let's round it out to say there are about 1.4 billion insects for every human. (Incidentally, this doesn't include spiders, because they're arachnids, not insects.)

This got us wondering about approximately how much humanity is outweighed by all those little critters. So we did the following, very rough calculation: Assuming the weight of an average insect is 3 milligrams (as is the case with ants) and the average weight of a person is 60 kilograms, then the weight of the world's insect population is about 70 times that of its human population.

THE QUESTION

When police use a lineup to identify a suspect, where do they get the other people? M. H. Brown of Vancouver wants to know.

THE ANSWER

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James Sullivan of Sudbury, Ont., who was once in a police lineup, tells us they use any person they're sure didn't commit the crime. "So they will use off-duty policemen, civilian employees at the police station" or anyone else they know is innocent.

"In my case, I was a restaurant owner and was well-known by the local police because many of them bought takeout lunches from my place."

He says it was not like the lineups you see on television. "There was no one-way glass. We were assembled in a large room in a straight line. The [witness] was brought into the room and told to take his time, look carefully at each person and identify the suspect." The funny thing, says Mr. Sullivan, is that the witness picked him. "The lineup was dismissed and I went back to work. I don't even know what the crime was."

Vern Hodgins of Brampton, Ont., had a slightly different experience. He was walking along the street when two police officers asked if he'd take part in a lineup.

"Thinking it would be an act of good citizenship," he says, "I was soon standing among like-minded individuals."

Then, the police released everyone in the lineup except for him and one other person. "I suddenly realized that I had no alibi for the night the crime took place, I lived alone and spent most evenings alone. The woman who had caught a good look at the man who committed the crime came into the room and studied the two of us up close. Fortunately, I only resembled him, and was soon free to contemplate my folly."

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HELP WANTED

Sebastian Grunstra of Ottawa writes: "The Olympic logo consists of five interconnected rings – three on top, two on the bottom – coloured blue, yellow, black, green and red from left to right. What is the symbolism behind it all?"

Paul Socken of Waterloo, Ont., asks: Why do baseball players spit incessantly?

Why is the South Pole colder than the North Pole? Phil James of Montreal wants to know.

Let's hear from you:

If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

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