From: Steve Williams, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published April 8, 2015 02:03 PM

City Ants love Junk Food - but then again, who doesn't?

We know that many animals have adapted to deal with our sprawling urbanization, but a new study reveals that ants might also be getting in on the act by developing a taste for our waste food scraps and our junk food.

The research, conducted by scientists at North Carolina State University and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, aimed to investigate the eating habits of the most common ant species in our big cities. To do this, the researchers took a sample of 21 different species found in New York City, including those who lived in parks as well as ants we might find on our sidewalks, and tested them in a quite ingenious way: isotope testing.

This is a method scientists can use to look for the presence of particular types of carbon, and in this case the researchers tried to determine which species of ants had the highest presence of a carbon isotope called carbon-13 which we know is linked to the corn and sugar cane that we regularly consume in much of our packaged foods and junk food. If the ants had higher concentrations of this carbon isotope in their system that would mean they were probably eating far more of our food waste than if they didn’t.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ant species with the highest concentrations of this isotope was the common pavement ants, as well as well as several species that frequent traffic medians which are the grassy strips between traffic lanes.

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

The types of ants that had the lowest levels of the carbon isotope were those who confined themselves to city parks. Interestingly though, the researchers found that one type of ant who lives on traffic meridians didn’t have high levels of this isotope, probably meaning they don’t like our waste food.

The species, known as Lasius cf. emarginatus, is relatively new to NYC and only arrived about five years ago. It is one of the only species that can compete with the pavement ant, but the isotope comparison shows that the newer species doesn’t have much of a taste for our waste food and instead is content to forage among the trees and around its nests for its more traditional foods.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Ants eating crumb image via Shutterstock.

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