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A new study shows that millions of different bugs living in New York do us a huge favor by consuming tons of half consumed food left on the side-walks, median strips, subway tracks or park benches. Researchers found out that insects eat each year an amount of junk-food equal to 60,000 hot-dogs from 150 median strips in Manhattan.
The study was performed during the summer of 2013 and was published in the “Global Change Biology” journal this Tuesday. Last summer, a team of six researchers from the Department of Entomology and Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, gathered in Manhattan to measure and sample the population of arthropods in this area and how temperature, humidity and other weather conditions affected it.
Among the arthropods examined were ants, spiders and millipedes living and dining out in NY. Researchers were also curios about the effects the Hurricane Sandy had on these small creatures.
The researchers spread out in Riverside Park, Central Park, Inwood Park, street medians and sidewalks to collect as many insect species they could find. They were able to extract about 16,200 insects and 32 ant species from the green places using a specially designed aspirator.
The scientists having unusual equipment were easily spotted by passersby. Elsa Youngsteadt, lead author of the study said some people approached them and said studying insects seemed interesting to them; others just asked them about methods of exterminating the insects.
Scientists made also an experiment by placing small amounts of leftovers, “enticing comestibles” as they call them, in precise locations. Oscar Mayer Extra Lean Franks, Ruffles potato chips and Nabisco Nilla Wafers were the main course on the menu.
Most of the food was placed in small cages that insects could enter but were inaccessible to rats, pigeons, squirrels and other animals. The rest of the food was put in easy to reach places by any animal and it was covered to avoid humidity.
After a day, scientists returned to these sites to see what happened.
One hundred percent of the caged food was eaten by insects on a third of street medians. In other places, where food was free-for-all, about twice as much food was consumed. Scientists drew the conclusion that city animals and insects share the same diet. The food was also eaten in places flooded with water (after a rainfall). Cookies and potato chips were the fastest to disappear, while hot dogs were usually leftovers.
Ants cleaning NY City didn’t impress everyone around. Levi Fishman, spokesman for NY Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) said the study confirmed that discarded food on streets was a major source of food for rats and other pests. For this reason, DHMH encourages the general public to dispose garbage in the trash receptacles placed throughout the city, Fishman added.