Some of New York City’s tiniest inhabitants are trash-eating, rat-fighting machines, according to a new study.
Researchers from North Carolina State University found that colonies of ants living in the city’s streets and parks eat thousands of pounds of trash — which is keeping populations of rats and other pests at bay in the process.
The researchers said that the ants that live in the medians of the city’s thoroughfares are particularly helpful. Along Broadway alone, researchers said, ants ate about 2,100 pounds of junk food — the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs — in less than one year.
“This isn’t just a silly fact,” said Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, the author of the study. “This highlights a very real service that these arthropods provide. They effectively dispose of our trash for us.”
The researchers reportedly came to their conclusion after putting specific amounts of junk food in the street medians and city park in 2012 and 2013. Some samples were put in cages that only ants could access, while others were put in the open so other animals could eat them. Researchers left the food out for 24 hours and then came back to see how much the ants had taken.
It was discovered that the ants in the medians took the most junk food, eating two to three times what park ants consumed. The ants also ate enough of the food to keep other animals away.