Bugs in Manhattan eat thousands of kilograms of trash each year

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Bugs in Manhattan eat thousands of kilograms of trash each year

The next time you spot a fly, don’t be so quick to swat it. A new study finds that insects, millipedes, and other arthropods consume thousands of kilograms of food litter every year, at least in New York City. By placing bits of potato chips, cookies, and hot dogs in cages throughout Manhattan, scientists were able to determine how much food the tiny animals eat. Contrary to their hypothesis, arthropods in hotter, drier environments with more pavement and lower biodiversity—like those found in medians between streets—consumed between two and three times more food waste than their counterparts living in parks. A particularly voracious ant, Tetramorium sp. E, which often lives in and around pavement, accounted for some of the disparity. But the scientists also speculate that the hotter, drier climate may be making the creatures hungrier and more active. Between the medians found along Broadway and West Street (which runs along the Hudson River) alone, arthropods remove 600 to 975 kg of waste annually, the team reports online today in Global Change Biology. That’s the equivalent of 600,000 potato chips. Considering Manhattanites produce up to 4.5 million kg of food litter annually, the bugs are having only a modest impact. Still, the researchers say their findings might allow urban planners to estimate the impact of arthropods by simply looking at characteristics of habitats like humidity and temperature rather than surveying for individual species.

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