Quirks & Quarks

Ants Perform Street Cleaner Role On Broadway

New York is cleaner, thanks to ants eating large amounts of garbage.
Ants eating garbage in an experimental cage (courtesy EK Youngsteadt)
The study of ecosystems usually takes place in natural settings, such as rain forests or wetlands. But a new study by Dr. Elsa Youngstaedt, from the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, looked at an ecosystem in one of the busiest urban areas in the world, New York's Manhattan Island. Ants and other urban insects were studied in parks and traffic medians. The researchers found that the presence of the pavement ant in the medians of Broadway and West Street provided the biggest surprise. In a lab experiment, these ants consumed all of the junk food - including cookies, chips and hot dogs - provided in a 24-hour period. Considering the number of medians in all of Manhattan, the researchers concluded that over an entire year, ants could possibly be eating 2100 pounds of junk food - the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs.

Related Links

Paper in Global Change Biology
- North Carolina State University release
- Blog post by Dr. Youngsteadt
- Wired Science story
- National Geographic story