Dr. Clint Penick, a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University, and colleagues have determined what species of ant eats the most junk food in New York City. Ants are a necessary part of the natural waste disposal system and human negligence in tossing uneaten food into the street makes knowing what ant helps to dispose of garbage important.
Over 100 different species of ants roam the jungles of Manhattan. Some ant species have adapted to humans by becoming sidewalk ants. A sidewalk ant lives on the sidewalk. Sidewalk ants have become further specialized in that some inhabit the pavement, some prefer the median, and some like the gutter.
Penick used carbon-13 to trace down the most active junk food eating ants in New York City. Corn fed-beef from hamburgers, sweet drinks, and some bread have high levels of carbon-13 that originate in the plants used to feed the cattle or make the bread and drinks. The pavement ant (Tetramorium sp. E) was found to be the most common consumer of junk food. This species is the most common ant species found on street medians and only lives in New York City.
Ants from the species Lasius emarginatus have become a median ant in New York City in the last five years. This species of ants does not care for human food. This species of ants prefers food found in trees in New York parks. The ant is a European native that has immigrated to New York. One might think that we have diet conscious ants and junk food addict ants like people.