Rather than cringing at the next beetle or wasp in your way, you might want to thank them—for helping to keep city streets clean.
Researchers from North Carolina State University working in New York City found that hungry urban arthropods play a significant role in the disposal of trash. For example, in a small section of Manhattan called the Broadway/West Street. corridor, insects consume the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs a year that would otherwise be lying in the street. And that’s assuming the bugs stop chowing down in winter.
To assess how much discarded food bugs got rid of, the researchers placed measured amounts of hot dogs, potato chips and cookies at 21 park sites and 24 street medians. Contrary to their prediction, location played an even bigger role in garbage consumption than biodiversity did—insects gobbled up two to three times more food in the street medians than they did in the parks.
The study appears in the journal Global Change Biology. [Elsa Youngsteadt et al, Habitat and species identity, not diversity, predict the extent of refuse consumption by urban arthropods]
If all that garbage disposal still does not make you an arthropod admirer, then consider this: by competing with larger pests for resources, insects help keep rat populations down. There’s some food for thought.