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Ant Infestation in NYC Apartments

By: Chenwei Ren

Imagine it’s near the end of May, and you traveled to another state to attend a wedding with your apartment spotless. When you came back, you saw a horrific scene: the kitchen was infested by a swarm of ants. This is exactly what happened to Katie Guhl, a young woman living in New York City.

“There were no crumbs to be had,” she said. She’d never seen ants there before, and had never expected to. After all, she lived on the 6th floor.

Ants prefer soil-filled parks and yards, unlike the cockroach (the unofficial mascot of New York City apartments), so they are generally less common in high rises. However, ant researchers now claim that a European species that has recently settled in the city, and made the city its home. The insects are now being discovered in living species several stories above the street.

Users on the r/Brooklyn subreddit also wrote about similar situations as Guhl. “Woke up this morning to ants crawling around my living room. I live on the 3rd floor and have never had problems with any insects.” Another added: “I worked in an apartment building, and the 25th floor had ants in midtown.”

Ants mingling with the urbane so high off the ground in an urban setting can be perplexing. But to Samantha Kennett, a graduate student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia working in Dr. Clint Penick’s social insects lab, it is rather an exciting case. She researches urban ant ecology.

Kennett focuses her research on the ant Lasius emarginatus. This ant is an immigrant from Europe who likely arrived by ship, much like the previous Ellis Island residents. It was first spotted living in New York in 2011. The tiny Lasius emarginatus, known as the ManhattAnt, has been thriving in New York for the past ten years.

“My research focuses on understanding how this ant, who is now one of the most common ants in New York City, has been able to be so successful, surviving in highly urban habitats,” Kennett states. She discovered Lasius emarginatus in the trees in midtown as well as all along Broadway. “We found them in Times Square,” Kennett said. “They are everywhere.”

Just how wide Lasius emarginatus will spread is unknown. “We've started to see populations pop up in New Jersey and as far as Long Island,” according to Kennett, who launched the online project Project ManhattAnt in the hopes that New Yorkers will report their sightings to assist scientists in tracking the resourceful insect as it silently spreads.

They’re not looking for cookie crumbs or left over food. Dr. Rob Dunn, a professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University, believes any ManhattAnts New Yorkers see inside are probably looking for water and are probably not there to stay. This ant “nests in the ground,” he said. “It nests under logs and in all the studies we’ve done, it prefers to have some natural habitat.”

Thankfully, the ManhattAnt has subsided by this point in the year. Foraging activity is known to be high from April through June, and it is known to be low in July.

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