A study conducted by researcher from North Carolina State University suggests that particular ant species found on the streets of Manhattan have developed a taste for human food. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
It looks like the ants living on sidewalks and other paved areas inside the city tend to have the levels of carbon isotope similar to humans. On the other hand, ants which live in parks have much decreased isotope levels. This shows that ants which are exposed to human food are adapting their chemistry to the environment.
Dr. Clint Penick, the lead author of the study, explained that the diet of ants living in urban species consists in a high degree of human foods. The ants are after all eating our garbage. This is probably what enables pavement ants to reach such large populations in urban areas.
The researchers collected over 100 ant samples on street medians, sidewalks and parks. They collected 21 different species of ants. Afterwards they examined the levels of isotopes in their bodies.
Both humans and animals absorb the carbon existing in the food. Carbon-13 isotope is often associated with corn and sugar cane, which are present in almost every food consumed by humans. According to the findings the pavement ant has the highest level of Carbon-13. Compared to ants living in parks which had the lowest level of Carbon-13, the substance was detected in all ant species living close to humans.
The investigators have also found a species of ant which turns its antennae up when exposed to human food. This ant (Lasius emarginatus) was found only in New York City in the past 5 years up until now, when it was identified on Manhattan’s traffic islands and pavements. However this ant showed no sign of human-like diet. Moreover, it did not spend time near humans, but in subterranean nests and trees. Dr. Penick said that this points at the complexity of urban ecosystems and how scientist still have to learn about how ant species react to the environment and how they relate to each other.
This study can help scientist discover which species of ants can help people clean up the trash on the streets. Further research will be conducted in order to determine whether ants would still prefer human food even if they had available their natural food source.
Image Source: VOA News
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