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Elsa Youngsteadt via North Carolina State University

NYC Insects Eat a Lot of Food Waste

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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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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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iStock
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Live Smarter
A Simple Way to Prevent Bed Bugs: Do Your Laundry While on Vacation
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iStock

Bed bugs are perhaps nature's worst house guests. Not only do they, y'know, feed on your blood while you sleep, but the critters also mysteriously sneak their way into our abodes without warning, only to turn around and invite all their friends over for a slumber party. Since they won't be dissuaded by an empty fridge or an expired HBO subscription, what steps can one take to ensure their home stays free of these dreaded visitors?

For starters, do your laundry while traveling, according to a new study spotted by Gizmodo. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, its authors found that bed bugs are twice as likely to convene on and inside tote bags with dirty clothes as those containing clean clothes. They discovered this after creating a mock bedroom with cotton laundry bags—one filled with "dirty" worn clothing, the other with clean items—and observing which of the two a cageful of unleashed bed bugs preferred.

Researchers know that bed bug populations have surged around the world thanks in part to the rise of cheap air travel. They also have theorized that they're attracted to human scent, which can linger on clothing for at least a few days. Still, they didn't quite know how, exactly, the critters make the jump from the outside world and into our abodes—especially since these insects are relatively sedentary and rarely leave their feeding places. These new findings suggest that the bugs could be stowing away in attractive-smelling suitcases—which after traveling through hotels, airports, and taxis, end up right back in our bedrooms.

Since some bugs, like mosquitos, are attracted to carbon dioxide (it indicates the exhalation of a nearby animal or human—a.k.a. a food source), researchers checked to see if increases of the gas made bed bugs more or less likely to congregate on the dirty laundry bags. This ended up prompting foraging behavior, but the insects weren't any more prone to hanging out on the soiled clothing heap than they were before. 

Keeping your luggage free of bed bugs while traveling can be relatively simple, study author William Hentley, an entomologist at the UK's University of Sheffield, told Science. Since not everyone has ready access to a washer and dryer on vacation, avoid the bugs in the first place by placing your suitcase atop the metal luggage racks commonly found in hotel rooms, even if you've already given the room a precautionary sweep. (Bed bugs can't climb up smooth surfaces.) If your room is sans rack, seal your dirty clothes inside an airtight bag to keep the insects from getting a good whiff, or wrap up your entire suitcase if it's frequently been home to unwashed garments in the past.

That said, not all is lost if you arrive home from a long vacation with a bag full of well-worn outfits. Take your clothes immediately to a washer/dryer and run them through a hot cycle. That should be enough to kill invading bed bugs before they've even had the chance to learn how comfortable your couch is.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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