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Insects Feast On NYC Trash, Play 'Bug' Role In Garbage Disposal

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - You may not want to read this before mealtime.

It turns out all of those cockroaches and waterbugs you've seen scurrying around New York City are playing a significant role in taming another nuisance: Garbage.

"This isn't just a silly fact," said researcher Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt. "This highlights a very real service that these arthropods provide. They effectively dispose of our trash for us."

Youngsteadt is a research associate with North Carolina State University, which conducted a study on the impact of arthropods - such as roaches, waterbugs, millipedes, and ants - in disposing of garbage.

"We calculate that the arthropods on medians down the Broadway/West Street corridor alone could consume more than 2,100 pounds of discarded junk food, the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs, every year - assuming they take a break in the winter," Youngsteadt said.

Insects Feast On NYC Trash, Play 'Bug' Role In Garbage Disposal

The study found arthropods ate more food on the median strips than in the parks.

"The ants and arthropods in medians ate two to three times more food than the ones in parks, which was surprising to us because parks do have a higher diversity of ants and other animals," Youngsteadt told 1010 WINS.

To see how much they ate, the researchers left out specific amounts of potato chips, cookies and hot dogs at various sites around the city. Some of the food was placed in cages so only bugs could get at it. After 24 hours, they would return to see just how much of the food was eaten.

"Given the opportunity, they could eat more than a ton of garbage in a year," Youngsteadt told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman.

They suspect some of the biggest eaters are ants, who are chowing down on food that might otherwise go to rats and other vermin.

"This means that ants and rats are competing to eat human garbage, and whatever the ants eat isn't available for the rats," Youngsteadt said. "The ants aren't just helping to clean up our cities, but to limit populations of rats and other pests."

Click here to read the complete study.

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