City Ants Eat Garbage, Fight Rats, Are Heroes

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The thought of a swarm of ants may be disconcerting (particularly if they’re in your apartment), but, according to a recent study, those little dudes are goddamn garbage-eating heroes. That’s right: Ants that live in the medians and sidewalks of New York City turn out to be a vital part of the sanitation system. A team of researchers found that just the ants living in the medians on Broadway can eat about 60,000 hot dogs a year.

The study, published yesterday in Global Change Biology, found that the arthropods (that’s the ants’ formal name, darling) eat all kinds of unwanted junk food. They sampled insects in street medians and parks in Manhattans and measured how much junk food they consumed by the critters in 24 hours.

One surprise from the study? Ants from the medians and sidewalks of New York were way more efficient at getting rid of dropped food than their park-living brethren. The researchers speculated that this is because the kind of ants that live in medians (Tetramorium species, if you must know) are more ravenous urban foragers. Ants eating this food is good, not just because it gets rid of discarded popcorn and pretzels, but because it starves out populations of ever grodier animals. (Grodier is a scientific term.)

“This means that ants and rats are competing to eat human garbage, and whatever the ants eat isn’t available for the rats,” research associate Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt explains. “The ants aren’t just helping to clean up our cities, but to limit populations of rats and other pests.”

See? Heroes among us. Thank an ant today.

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