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They invade homes, gardens, parks, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and offices – any environment that provides food and water is good enough for the little critters. Once set up, the intricate colonies are tremendously difficult to eliminate and constitute a serious challenge for residential and commercial property owners.
However, urban ants are not all that bad. In fact, the diversity of the total ant species in an ecosystem can accurately indicate the overall environmental health, keeping the entire ecosystem in balance. They are soil makers, seed sowers, and nutrient recyclers, and they are sometimes as interesting as they are troublesome. Here are three fascinating things you probably didn’t know about urban ants.
#1. They Love Junk Food as Much as Humans Do
Ever dropped an ice-cream cone or a piece of doughnut on the pavement and didn’t bother to pick it up? You wouldn’t have been littering, apparently, because some industrious ants will have immediately seized and carried it away. That’s according to a group of researchers from the North Carolina University, who have recently discovered that several species of ants living in urban environments have come to appreciate junk food almost as much as people do.
The study’s goal was to find out the reason some ants were better equipped at living alongside humans than those who preferred isolating themselves on the outskirts of human development.
More than 100 ant samples representing 22 species were collected from sidewalks, parks, and traffic medians in Manhattan, NY, and analyzed for traces of carbon- 13, commonly associated with corn and sugar cane. They noticed that the species that lived in regions with a greater human presence exhibited higher levels of the isotope than the species that remain in the parks, suggesting they are indeed thriving on their high-carb diets. Tetramorium Sp. E., commonly known as the pavement ant, had the greatest quantity of carbon- 13 of all species analyzed.
#2. They Can Withstand Extreme Temperatures
Attempting to learn how city animals and plants have been affected by life in large city areas, an international team of biologists discovered that certain organisms can tolerate high temperatures better than those outside the city.
It was shown that ants from South America’s largest city, Sao Paolo, could tolerate heat and cold better than their cousins from rural environments. This capability resulted from the fact that the temperatures in urban environments can are higher than their rural surroundings by up to 12 degrees Celsius (a phenomenon called the Heat Island Effect). Specifically, city dwellers took 20 percent longer to lose mobility at 42 degrees Celsius than rural ants, reinforcing the fact that certain organisms’ thermal tolerances respond to rapid changes in climate.
#3. They Are Fierce Rat-Fighting Machines
Now, don’t imagine the tiny insects taking out nasty rats in a mano-a-mano combat. Their pest-fighting services are provided indirectly to city residents through the consumption of an incredible amount of garbage – which is starving out populations of rats and other pests in the process.
Researchers from the North Carolina State University found that colonies of ants dwelling in the city’s streets and parks were among some of the most voracious garbage eaters, being able to consume over 2,100 pounds of discarded food per year (the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs).It was discovered that the ants on street medians ate the most junk food, consuming 2 to 3 times more than their counterparts out in the park.
Ants are fascinating creatures, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t try to understand them better and respect them more for their invaluable ecosystem services. However, they can rapidly turn into a nuisance when they start entering our homes and gardens in search for food and shelter, causing significant nesting and structural damage. If you suspect you have an ant infestation on your hands, contact a knowledgeable pest control company to help you eliminate and prevent invasion from your property.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid garde