Bugs and rats have lived for centuries in a deadlocked battle for the title of Worst Pest in NYC, but the scientists behind a new study may have just dealt bug fans a decisive victory by proving how urban insects are our friends — or, more specifically, our garbage.
The study, published today in Global Change Biology, set out to look at urban insects — from roaches to ants to spiders — in New York City. The authors were hoping to find out more about how Hurricane Sandy had affected New York’s insects, but in the process, they also ended up revealing some fascinating statistics about how bugs fare in our fair city. For example, The New York Times reports that an initial culling of bugs from parks and medians uncovered “16,294 bugs, including representatives of 32 species of ants.”
Here’s where things get good. In order to test how much food — human food! — the insects were eating, the research team put out some treats, included Nilla wafers, Ruffles chips, and Oscar Mayer hot dogs. Then they came back and recorded how much had been eaten.
What they found was that insects are responsible for devouring a huge amount of human-made trash in the city, from the crust of your dollar slice to, yes, hot dogs. And in doing so, they make it that much harder for rats to flourish. “We estimate that arthropods alone could remove 4kg-6.5kg of food per year in a single street median,” they explain in the study abstract, “reducing its availability to less desirable fauna such as rats.”
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