Over the span of 24 hours, curbside ants ate much more food than their invertebrate brethren who live in parks, the scientists reported Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
Urban ants aren't the only ones chowing down on the city's junk, either. When the researchers plated the food out in the open, rather than in a cage, substantially more victuals disappeared overnight. The hungry custodians? Rats, primarily, but also house sparrows, starlings, raccoons and pigeons. (Most animals, sensibly, opted for the potato chips and cookies instead of the hot dogs.)
Urban ecosystems aren't well-researched, said Christopher Swan, an environmental systems expert at the University of Maryland who was not associated with this report, to the New York Times. But considering the huge number of humans who live in cities - and the often surprising diversity of wildlife - it's important to figure out what's going on. "The environment in a city is performing a function," he said. "In this case, it turns out that arthropods are removing refuse. Studies like this have to happen, and this is a pretty good one."