NYC’s Ants Are Foodies

April 2, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

Ants that live in Manhattan have developed a taste for human food — more so than ants found in forests and parks, a new study has found.

Researchers from NC State say that the Pavement ant, the most common ant in New York City, eats junk food that we toss out. Several of the 21 species of ants in the researchers tested as part of their study showed higher levels of carbon-13, an isotope associated with processed food, than ants found in greener areas.

“Human foods clearly make up a significant portion of the diet in urban species,” said Clint Penick, the study’s lead researcher. “These are the ants eating our garbage, and this may explain why pavement ants are able to achieve such large populations in cities.”

“The ants that live alongside us in our cities also seem to be those same species that can eat the same food that we do, and do so the most,” he explained.

However, the Lasius cf. emarginatus, which has settled in the city’s medians in the past five years, does not seem to eat human food. “This highlights the complex nature of urban ecosystems and how much we still have to learn about how these species relate to each other and to the environment,” Penick says.

The study was in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

(Photo: Joshua Bousel)