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Elsa Youngsteadt via North Carolina State University
Elsa Youngsteadt via North Carolina State University

NYC Insects Eat a Lot of Food Waste

Elsa Youngsteadt via North Carolina State University
Elsa Youngsteadt via North Carolina State University

According to new research by scientists at NC State University, insects and other arthropods play a major role in getting rid of New York City's trash: Assuming that bugs take a break in the winter, scientists calculated that the critters on the medians along 150 blocks in the Broadway/West Street corridor can consume more than 2100 pounds of discarded junk food every year. That's the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs!

To figure out how much city arthropods ate, the researchers placed two measured piles of food—one in a cage, where only arthropods could get at it, and another out in the open—at certain sites on street medians and in parks, then returned after 24 hours to collect what food, if any, was left over.

On the first day of the study, the researchers left the piles in Highbridge Park in the city's Washington Heights neighborhood; they returned the next next day to find the cage—which had contained a piece of a Nilla Wafer, a Ruffles Original potato chip, and a slice of Oscar Meyer turkey hotdog—empty. "I thought there was a problem," Elsa Youngsteadt, NC State research associate lead author on the study, which was published in Global Change Biology, wrote in a blog post. "This was a cage cobbled together out of a fry basket from a restaurant supply store plus a square of hardware cloth, and it was firmly tacked to the ground with landscape staples. With its snug, quarter-inch mesh, it should let most insects move freely, while keeping vertebrates out."

Could mice or rats have somehow gotten into the cage? The researchers moved the cage, fortified it further, and returned the next day to find it swarming with ants—pavement ants (Tetramorium species), to be precise. "At sites where we found pavement ants, more got eaten," Youngsteadt wrote. "They love nesting near pavement, so they’re more common in medians than in parks. (But Highbridge Park had them, explaining its big, median-like appetite.)"

The researchers found that arthropods on medians ate two to three times more junk food than arthropods in parks. And by cleaning up after us, bugs are serving another purpose, too: They're helping to limit populations of animals like rats and pigeons, which also eat our food waste. "Both groups of animals (bugs and vertebrates) want the stuff we drop," Youngsteadt wrote. "In other words, they compete for it; what one group gets, the other group doesn’t. I would love to know how much of that uncaged food went to ants and how much to rats—and whether that depended on the kind of food, the size of the food, the time of day, the habitat. But those are goodies for another study someday."

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Finnish Food Company Launches The World's First Insect-Based Bread
Fazer
Fazer

A Finnish food company has created a protein-packed bread using an unusual natural ingredient: crickets. It's billed as the world's first insect-based bread to ever be sold in stores, according to Reuters.

In September 2017, Finnish officials approved the cultivation and sale of insects as food. But Fazer Food Services in Helsinki has been testing a bread that contained flour, seeds, and "flour" made from dried crickets long before than decision. The company waited for Finland to give bug food products the go-ahead before officially launching their product in late November.

"We wanted to be in the forefront of food revolution," said Markus Hellström, Fazer Bakery Finland's managing director, in a news release. Plus, he added, "Finns are known to be willing to try new things, and the Fazer Cricket Bread is an easy way to get a feel of food of the future."

A single loaf of cricket bread will set customers back nearly $5. Each contains around 70 crushed crickets, which are currently sourced from the Netherlands. Currently, there's not enough cricket flour for Fazer to conduct nationwide sales, so the company is rolling the product out in stages. Just 11 locations in the Helsinki metro area sell Fazer Cricket Bread right now, with plans to eventually offer it in all 47 Fazer in-store bakeries.

Cricket bread has more protein than the typical baked good, plus it's believed be more environmentally friendly to boot. And Fazer company officials believe that Finns, in particular, are willing to bite.

The world "needs new and sustainable sources of nutrition,” said Juhani Sibakov, Fazer Bakery Finland's director of innovation, in the statement. “According to research, of all the Nordic countries, Finns have the most positive attitudes towards insects.”

[h/t Reuters]

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Which Rooms In Your Home Have the Most Types of Bugs, According to Entomologists 
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iStock

Insects can make any home their own, so long as it contains cracks, doors, and windows for them to fly, wriggle, or hitchhike their way in. And it turns out that the creepy crawlers prefer your living room over your kitchen, according to a new study that was recently highlighted by The Verge.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study looked at 50 homes in Raleigh, North Carolina, to measure their insect populations. Entomologists from both North Carolina State University and the California Academy of Sciences ultimately discovered more than 10,000 bugs, both alive and dead, and a diverse array of species to boot.

The most commonly observed bugs were harmless, and included ladybugs, silverfish, fruit flies, and book lice. (Luckily for homeowners, pests like bedbugs, termites, and fleas were scarcer.) Not all rooms, though, contained the same distribution of many-legged residents.

Ground-floor living rooms with carpets and windows tended to have the most diverse bug populations, as the critters had easy access inside, lots of space to live in, and a fibrous floor habitat that could be either a cozy homestead or a death trap for bugs, depending on whether they got stuck in it. The higher the floor level, the less diverse the bug population was, a fact that could be attributed to the lack of doors and outside openings.

Types of bugs that were thought to be specific to some types of rooms were actually common across the board. Ants and cockroaches didn’t limit themselves to the kitchen, while cellar spiders were present in all types of rooms. As for moths and drain flies, they were found in both common rooms and bathrooms.

Researchers also found that “resident behavior such as house tidiness, pesticide usage, and pet ownership showed no significant influence on arthropod community composition.”

The study isn’t representative of all households, since entomologists studied only 50 homes within the same geographical area. But one main takeaway could be that cohabiting bugs “are an inevitable part of life on Earth and more reflective of the conditions outside homes than the decisions made inside,” the researchers concluded. In short, it might finally be time to make peace with your itty-bitty housemates.

[h/t The Verge]

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