• Body size;
  • cursorial;
  • scaling

1. The size–grain hypothesis maintains that as terrestrial walking organisms decrease in size, their environment becomes less planar and more rugose. The benefits of long legs (efficient, speedy movement over a planar environment) may thus decrease with smaller body size, while the costs (larger cross-sectional area limiting access to the interstitial environment) are enhanced.

2. A prediction from this hypothesis – that leg size should increase proportionately with body mass – is examined. Ants are among the smallest walking animals and extend the size gradient five orders of magnitude beyond the traditional ‘mouse to elephant’ curve. The mass of 135 species of worker ants spans 3·7 orders of magnitude (0·008–53 mg). Larger ants tended to be slimmer and longer legged. Ant subfamilies varied in their scaling relationships, but four out of five showed a positive allometry for hind leg length (b > 0·33). Mammals, in contrast, show isometry for leg length over six orders of magnitude.

3. It is suggested that ants make a transition from living in an interstitial environment when small to a planar environment when large, a habit continued by most terrestrial mammals. Head length and pronotum width are robust estimators of mass in ants.