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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This Self-Cloning Tick is Terrorizing More States
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iStock

Few arachnids are as demonized in the summer months as ticks, the parasitic little nuisances that can spread disease in humans and pets. That's not likely to change now that there's a exotic new species that can not only self-replicate, but is also poised to attack animals like a colony of swarming fire ants.

This super-tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis, or the longhorned tick, native to East Asia and imported to the U.S. by unknown means. The first North American sighting took place in August 2017 in New Jersey when a farmer walked into a county health office covered in nearly 1000 ticks after shearing a pet sheep that had been infested. The insect was then spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas, with caution advised in Maryland. As of this week, it’s now a confirmed resident of North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

H. longicornis invites more dread than a conventional tick for several reasons. It can “clone” itself, with females laying up to 2000 genetically identical eggs without any assistance from a male, a process called parthenogenesis. Reproduction is faster, with offspring appearing in just six months compared to two years for common deer ticks. It’s also an aggressive biter, nibbling on any animal flesh it can latch on to, and is able to transfer a host of diseases in the process—some of them fatal. In addition to Lyme, longhorned ticks can transmit the flu-like ehrlichiosis bacteria and the rare Powassan virus, which can cause brain inflammation.

The news isn’t much better for livestock. Given enough opportunity, the ticks can siphon enough blood from an animal to kill it, a process known as exsanguination. The attack can become so concentrated that pets have been spotted with ticks hanging from them like bunches of grapes.

New Jersey officials have confirmed the tick has survived the winter by burrowing underground, a somewhat ominous sign that the invasive species might be durable enough to become a widespread problem. Experts recommend taking all the regular precautions, including wearing long pants when outdoors, using repellent, and examining yourself and your pets for ticks. While the longhorned tick hadn’t yet displayed a taste for human flesh, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for the sheep: following a chemical treatment, she made a full recovery.

[h/t Charlotte Observer]

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Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
This Super-Stinger Wasp Was Just Discovered in the Amazon
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku

Deserved or not, the Amazon has developed a reputation for hosting animals, insects, and other creatures that appear to exist solely to terrify humans. And everywhere in the world, you’ll find parasitic organisms that thrive when they siphon blood or other resources from hosts.

A new entrant has emerged in both of these charts: Calistoga crassicaudata, a wasp recently discovered in the Amazon that sports a stinger roughly half the length of its 9.8-millimeter-long body. The insect may as well come out of the workshop of Alien designer H.R. Giger: Its methodology is to impale prey with the stinger, paralyzing it, and then depositing eggs inside so they can hatch later. The hatching usually causes the host—typically a spider—to burst open and die in agony as C. crassicaudata laughs maniacally. Metaphorically speaking.

Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland, made the discovery between the Andes and the Amazonian lowland rainforest and reported it in the journal Zootaxa. The new species appears to be amazing wasp experts by the sheer magnitude of its built-in spear, also called an ovipositor, that delivers both venom and the female's eggs.

"I have studied tropical parasitoid wasps for a long time, but I have never seen anything like it," entomologist and co-author Ilari E. Sääksjärvi said in a statement. "It looks like a fierce weapon."

The good news? It’s not really strong enough to pierce human skin, so should you find yourself in its vicinity, you probably don't need to worry. Instead, worry more about the common paper wasp, which has a barbed stinger, takes only 0.5 seconds to impale you, and can retain its stinger to continue its assault.

[h/t LiveScience]

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