Beastly does it
New York gets wilder than your last Saturday night. Meet the city's animal kingdom-they're itching (and scratching, and biting) to meet you.
Thu Sep 27 2007
- Life a' vermin
- Beastly does it
- New York critters: facts and figures
- Varmint district
- Neigh Sayers
- Pest side story
- Hooking up
- Master baiting
- Mad about zoo
- PETA's most wanted
- The ferret debate
Moths | Termites | Opossums | Moles
Rabbits | Wasps | Ladybugs | Mourning doves | Tooth amoeba
Click the illustrations of the animals below and we'll give you more information about them about them
With a natural attraction to warm, wet and dark dwellings, cockroaches claim a big chunk of the New York insect population. Subway stations, bridges, cellars and waterways provide an abundance of roach breeding grounds, making it impossible to get rid of them. Their survival skills are legendary: The cockroach has not evolved in 300 million years. New York’s most common offender, the German cockroach, is light brown, with two dark stripes on its back.
The rat’s breeding figures speak volumes: A female rat can produce 256 offspring per year. Combine that with their freakish competence in breaking and entering (they can gnaw, swim and eat their way through most obstacles) and an attraction to garbage,. New York’s most common varieties, the brown rat and the Norway rat, can dwell in both indoor (attics, walls, basements) and outdoor (garbage cans, holes under buildings, rooftops) environments, and they often make their presence known in the form of fecal matter or chewed-up interiors. Though their size (from 6 to 18 inches) makes them hard to miss, rats crave darkness, and their nocturnal lifestyle means bait and traps are the only way to get rid of ’em.
Far cuter than rats, but equally destructive, mice can live both indoors and out, though the onset of cold weather causes them to move inside (so new rodent friends could be moving in soon). Not native to the U.S., mice arrived alongside the Pilgrims, when they stowed away on ships traveling to America. They have managed to survive since then, living in every region of the country, and producing 5 to 10 litters of about five offspring annually. Like rats, mice are scavengers, preferring foods high in fat, sugar and protein. Though they consume only an average of three grams of food per day, mice are messy eaters, leaving trails of discarded leftovers in their wake. They may be tiny (average weight is 0.6 ounces), but mice can take over a building under the right conditions. Still, while rats can be wary of new objects such as traps, mice have the guts and curiosity to check them out, making them a far easier kill.
The nursery rhyme may have been fun as a child, but today, New Yorkers know there’s nothing pleasant about these nocturnal, bloodsucking creatures inhabiting their homes’ crevices. What they lack in size (the typical bedbug is the size of an apple seed), they make up for in population. Until they’re discovered, bedbugs can continue their reign of terror unabated, hiding in tiny spaces and multiplying into the hundreds, even thousands. Though almost eradicated by DDT after World War II, bedbugs have made a comeback in the city in recent years. According to the city housing agency, bedbug violations rose from just two in 2002 to more than 449 in 2005. And once they infest a home, it’s hard to get rid of them. Though some attempt a DIY approach to kill them off, most situations require a professional exterminator, whose rates can range up to the thousands, depending upon housing size and whether or not the problem requires repeat visits.
The city may be Spider-Man’s birthplace, but spiders play a much less pronounced role than other insects in New York. For one, spiders usually found in urban areas come with less of a bad rep than most bugs; they kill other pests, such as flies and mosquitoes. In addition, deadly spider varieties aren’t as likely to pop up in Times Square, because most venomous eight-leggers prefer living in natural environments, such as grassy or wooded areas. You may stumble upon them in Central or Prospect Park, but the chances of a venomous encounter inside your home is slim.
Larger (about one inch in length) than the more common German cockroach, the water bug, also known as the Oriental cockroach, thrives in dark, damp, cool habitats. Traveling through sewer pipes and lusting after filth, water bugs tend to take up residence under sinks or washing machines, and in basements. Though they feed on any form of rubbish or decaying organic matter, water bugs can live up to two months without food if water is available, but will die in two weeks without hydration. And, bad news for first-floor tenants, water bugs rarely travel far from their comfort zone, preferring to stay close to basement environments, which provide more moisture. With a fondness for dank, dirty surroundings, water bugs are capable of carrying bacteria around your dwellings. Kill them as you would a German cockroach, and while you’re at it, clean up your living space.
Chances are, most of us have had encounters with the fast-moving, 15-legged house centipede. The most common form of centipede throughout North America, the house centipede has a frightening appearance and quick speed that stop most from overlooking its benefits. Though house centipedes are, like fellow members of their class, carnivorous predators, they usually attack only other bugs (cockroaches, silverfish, ants and bedbugs), killing their prey by injecting venom through their fangs. With a bite similar to that of a bee sting, house centipedes are capable of biting humans, though this rarely occurs. New York also has a place in centipede history: In 2002, a new type of the insect was found under leaves in Central Park. Measuring just 0.4 inches, the new centipede was the smallest known form of the creature at the time of its discovery.
Though often associated with The Silence of the Lambs, moths are the complete opposite of a cold-blooded killer. Only three types of moths eat fabric (wool or silk), but most adult moths eat nothing at all; some even lack one key feature—a mouth. When they do eat, however, they eat much like their descendant, the butterfly, and choose nectar. Within the city, the New York City Department of Parks launched a 1998 campaign to reintroduce the luna moth to Central Park, against criticism from biologists who said the city’s large rat population would pounce on the chance to eat the insect’s larvae.
With 12,000 different species, ants can be annoying in a variety of forms. Though some have names like the meat ant and red fire ant, the pests most commonly found in U.S. households tend to be harmless to humans. Rather than inflicting harm, they colonize, breed, thrive on leftovers and annoy anyone with an aversion to tiny black specks trotting around their home. Their strict stratification—ants living in colonies perform certain tasks and have various specific roles—has ensured their survival, and made them America’s most common household pest. While most ants feed solely on sweets or grease, carpenter ants can present a bigger problem. With a lust for wooden objects, carpenters gnaw through anything in order to build their relatively (by ant standards) enormous nests. At the first sign of the insects, take steps to eliminate their occupation. Because they leave pheromone trails to food sources, their buddies will pounce on the chance to feed.
In New York, some mosquitoes pack an extra punch. In addition to their population boom during warm-weather months, the bloodsucking bugs took the blame in cases of the West Nile virus. The virus, which mosquitoes ingest by drinking the blood of dead, diseased birds, appeared in the city during summer 1999. The city’s largest case of a mosquito-transmitted virus since yellow fever, West Nile claimed the lives of seven people in 1999, with one Brooklyn woman contracting the virus in September 2007. The number of West Nile cases has been reduced since the initial outbreak, but mosquitoes still make their presence known during summer months. Though each insect weighs only 2 to 2.5 milligrams, mosquitoes can travel up to ten kilometers every night, flying continuously for up to four hours.
Even though they cannot fly, fleas have wreaked their share of havoc throughout history. When you’re the one responsible for outbreaks of bubonic plague, a bad reputation is hard to shrug off. During the Black Plague, fleas carrying the virus fed on the blood of mammals, including humans, and sent them on a course for death. Though one couple from New Mexico brought the plague to New York City in 2002, doctors were able to successfully treat both patients. In most cases, fleas act similarly to other insects that depend on blood for their survival. Living in cracks, crevices, sand and bedding, fleas emerge only when they sense a host is near, through signals like vibrations. Though small in size, fleas can jump up to seven inches vertically, almost 200 times their actual size, making them the best jumper of all animals. Watch for fleas in hair as well —their flat bodies helps them blend in with the scalp.
Like ants, termites live in well-ordered communities and assign specific duties to each member (worker, soldier, reproducer). They stay away from humans, surviving solely on dead plant material like wood, leaf litter or soil. Though similar in body structure to ants (each is about one centimeter in length), termites are actually more closely related to cockroaches. The insects leave their large nests to find food sources, and their presence is often undiscovered for some time, as they can feed on wood within the walls of houses. While they can cause a considerable amount of damage, termites can be killed with common insecticides, most often requiring an exterminator.
Thankfully, New Yorkers need not worry too much about a boom in the tick population. They thrive in grassy, wooded areas, so the majority of ticks in the city are brought into the boroughs from residents taking vacations in more rural Northeastern areas. But even though their population isn’t swelling in New York, the city’s Department of Health still reported 820 cases of Lyme disease between 1997 and 2002. Second only to mosquitoes as carriers of diseases, ticks feeding on mammal blood tend to stay on their host for hours, often going unnoticed until their consumption causes them to enlarge. The most common carrier of Lyme disease, the hard tick, must be removed using tweezers, and is often difficult to kill due to its nearly impenetrable, solid exterior.
During summer months, flies are one of the most common indoor pests. A female can produce up to 9,000 eggs during her life cycle, so making a dent in their numbers is difficult. Reproducing primarily during warm-weather months, housefly larvae or pupa live through cold weather, but only by staying in protected areas. Houseflies also consume only liquids, and often vomit and then reingest them. Despite their creepy appearance, houseflies are obsessed with preening, because most of their taste and smell receptors reside on the hair of their legs. But be warned: Some flies can carry more than 100 pathogens.
It’s arguable that the city’s most common pigeon species has an appropriate name: the feral pigeon. Following the introduction of the rock pigeon species to North America in 1606, escaped or released specimens gave rise to the bird’s feral version. Due to an abundance of frequently mating feral pigeons, some say it is difficult to find other, more pure versions of the pigeon in the wild. Unlike other wild birds, pigeons’ tendencies to build their nests in dirty environments (gutters, chimneys and window air conditioners) and scavenge through garbage have led to their reputation as a pest. Some cities have even taken steps to reduce pigeon populations by cutting off food supplies or breeding peregrine falcons, which eat rock pigeons. Despite efforts, however, pigeons can still be seen mating in most urban parks—watch for males with puffed-up feathers running after females, who will walk away or fly short distances to escape their advances. Some organizations, such as the New York City Pigeon Rescue, have joined forces to protect and treat injured birds.
Though they prefer living in trees, squirrels have adapted and can still be found in abundance in urban environments. The city’s most common variety is the Eastern gray squirrel,including its subvariety, the “black squirrel.” They’ve learned how to survive in the city, thanks to the generosity of humans who are willing to throw discarded food or throw crumbs their way. In residential areas, however, squirrels can sometimes take up residence in attics, and often eat from bird feeders. In 2003, three New Yorkers rebuilt 13 squirrel houses in Tompkins Square Park in an attempt to reduce the number of squirrel deaths in winter months.
They may have begun building their homes in wooded areas, but today, NYC has the largest raccoon population of any city in New York State. Despite their numbers, raccoons may seem less common because they come out only at night. In addition to their hunger for the contents of knocked-over garbage cans, raccoons are one of the most common carriers of rabies. Racoons can weigh from 6 to 25 pounds, but most have tails measuring about ten inches. Though they rarely attack household pets, a raccoon exhibiting aggressive behavior toward people or pets is usually rabid, and should be immediately removed from the area with the help of animal services.
The only marsupial found in the United States, the opossum has gained a reputation throughout the years for its bizarre appearance, rather low level of intelligence and clumsy demeanor. Equal in size to large house cats, opossums dwell in trees and in burrows, but live a nomadic lifestyle, leaving an area when food or water ceases to become readily available. Like raccoons, opossums can carry rabies, and in 1991, the appearance of one infected with rabies of an infected one in Nassau County led to widespread panic. When encountered, however, opossums will “play possum,” during which it will mimic the posture and scent of a dead animal: baring its teeth, forming saliva around the mouth and unfortunately, secreting a foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands.
Appropriate for the creature who inspired the name of homeless New Yorkers residing in the subway system, moles live in a series of subterranean labyrinth-like tunnels. Though they will occasionally come to the surface, moles spend the majority of their lives underground, feeding on worms and insect larvae. Despite their poor vision, moles are adept diggers and often appear as if they are swimming through dirt. While their underground chambers pose little health risks, their tunnels can cause damage to property and ruin landscaping.
A member of the city’s grazing-animal community, the cottontail rabbit is the most common form of the species in the boroughs. Nearly half the world’s rabbit species are extinct, due to both attempts by humans to kill rabbit populations whose overgrazing can destroy agriculture. They’re skilled at reproduction (each female rabbit can give birth up to five times per year), so rabbit populations can quickly increase under the right conditions.
Dracula, bloodsucking and swarms of flying bats on the attack. All of it untrue. The city’s most common bat, the brown bat, does much more good than harm, with its ability to eat more than 600 mosquitoes in an hour, including the ones infected with West Nile virus. And though they can carry rabies, infected bats number no more than 4 percent throughout the state. Early September marks the birth of a new batch of baby bats, and some precautions should be made. Due to poor eyesight and a general inability to navigate at their young age, babies tend to wander into open windows and attic spaces. So rather than chasing after an intruder with a broom, call animal control services and have it humanely removed.
They don’t just release an unmistakable cloud of odor: Skunks are also the No. 1 carrier of rabies—a surge in their population at Pelham Bay Park caused some concern regarding the disease. Because their odor functions as such a strong defense mechanism, skunks rarely feel the need for safety in numbers, living most of their lives alone, aside from during mating seasons. Most skunks burrow holes in the ground using their powerful front claws, and feed on insects, rodents and wild fruit. For skunks in the city, though, the Dumpster may hold the majority of their next meal.
Numbering in at least the tens of thousands, feral cats can be found everywhere in the city, roaming through the streets and reproducing anywhere convenient. The offspring of abandoned domestic cats, feral cats are neither tame nor fixed. The New York City Feral Cat Council has taken steps to at least control their population through a program called Trap-Neuter-Return. Rather than killing the animals, the cats are neutered and returned to the streets, unable to further reproduce. Overcrowding in animal shelters because of feral cats has led to an increase in euthanasia of other animals.
Though New York is also home to more-aggressive yellow jackets and hornets, the honeybee constitutes the majority of the city’s bee population. In recent years, the city has banned beekeeping, though people continue to maintain hives on their rooftops, harvesting honey. With the ability to live farther above street level, bees are less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, as they interact with far fewer people. Feeding on nectar from flowers, bees produce honey in their hives, where they function under a rigid code of order, with various tasks and roles.
Eastern ribbon snakes
Coming in various colors, but all sharing the same distinct stripe patterns on their bodies, Eastern ribbon snakes inhabit states surrounding the Great Lakes region, as well as NYC and parts of the South. You’re unlikely to encounter one unless you’re near a body of water—they subsist on amphibians and insects. Eastern ribbon snakes are also commonly confused with garter snakes; one easy way to tell them apart is by size, as garter snakes tend to have a stockier frame. Though they range from 18 to 26 inches long, spotting one remains difficult due to their camouflage design.
Eastern milk snake
Another slithering animal with a bad rep—its name comes from myth that the Eastern milk snake literally milks cows. In addition, its close resemblance to the Northern copperhead snake drives many to kill it, even though it’s harmless. Able to survive in urban areas, the snake feeds on a diet of rodents, birds, lizards and even venomous snakes. Growing up to between 24 to 36 inches in length, the snake feeds on a diet of rodents, birds, lizards and even venemous snakes. This enables it ton survive in urban areas, but it prefers to stay close to bodies of water.
Females eating males after sex and devouring other insects—it’s all in a day’s work for the praying mantis. A unique type of insect, the mantis is an expert at blending into its surroundings, and uses its 180-degree field of vision to strike down prey (flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches). In addition, the mantis is one insect whose defensive technique is easy to detect: Assuming a standing position with its forelegs spread, the mantis will open its mouth to scare off predators. And predator, beware: Some have been known to eat small birds. Despite their ferocious demeanor, mantises are listed as a beneficial insect by the USDA.
Though its speed and distinct wing-flapping sound can be somewhat disorienting, the dragonfly is harmless to humans, preferring to attack mosquitoes, bees and flies. Its help in reducing the population of pest insect populations has earned it the nickname of “mosquito hawk” in North America. Because they hatch their larvae in or near the water, dragonflies seldom reside far from a body of water. Though prehuman dragonflies had a wingspan of up to 29 inches, today’s version reaches an average of seven-and-a-half inches. What they lack in size, they make up for in eyesight: The dragonfly’s intricate compound eyes give the insect an almost 360-degree field of vision.
Some scientists estimate there are up to 50,000 earthworms per square acre of moist soil. Burrowed in deep tunnels, earthworms live entirely on organic matter, eating their way through soil that contains nutrients made by plants during photosynthesis. Farmers have called the earthworm “nature’s plow” because the tunnels it makes bring oxygen into the soil, and allow additional passageways for water to reach plant roots. In New York, worms have gained popularity with environmentally conscious residents, who use the worms in composting, placing them in a container full of discarded fruits and vegetables and allowing them to eat their way through.
Female wasps make the catfights on reality TV look like romps in the park. According to scientific evidence, female wasps compete among one another by eating their rivals’ eggs—in some cases, the role of queen wasp may go to the female who can eat the most eggs while protecting her own. Using a smooth, lancelike stinger, wasps can quickly insert and retract and, unlike bees, can even sting repeatedly. Within the city, look for wasp nests both in and around buildings, in the eaves, under shutters, in bushes or shrubs and even underground.
In addition to the typical red-and-black pattern, ladybug species come in a variety of other colors. In fact, former Gov. Mario Cuomo signed legislation in 1989 that made an orange-and-black species of ladybugs the official New York State insect. Large swarms of ladybugs will wait out the winter under fallen leaves, bark or inside outbuildings. After mating, however, ladybugs will place their larvae close to areas occupied by their prey (aphids), increasing the likelihood of their offspring’s survival. The ladybug even has religious roots—during the Middle Ages, farmers regarded the ladybug as an intervention of the Virgin Mary because the insect destroyed common agricultural pests.
After hearing that European house sparrows helped control city insect infestations, a group of New Yorkers brought eight pairs of the birds from England in 1850 and released them into the city. Similar to pigeons, some species of sparrows scavenge for food around cities, capable of eating virtually anything in small quantities. The typical sparrow has a small, plump brown or gray body, with a short wing tail and a stubby beak. The city’s sparrow population has steadily decreased since the start of the 20th century, due to a lack of nesting space and competition for food from pigeons.
In recent years, crows have flocked to urban areas like New York,a mass immigration that resulted from their traditional habitats having been overrun by suburban development, and their attraction to New York’s vast parks, plentiful food (garbage) sources and warmer temperatures. The city’s parks are also home to another attraction for crows, large trees that provide ample room for the bird’s roosts. But though crows were quick to move to the city, some of them have a tendency toward slackerlike behavior. Certain young crows, for example, often delay leaving their family’s roost after they have sexually matured, sometimes even coming back to the nest more than a year after leaving, childless, and looking for a place to live.
New York’s two most common woodpeckers, the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker, take up residence in Central Park and, in the case of the latter, Van Cortlandt Park. Woodpeckers peck for specific reasons: In addition to helping them locate and access insect larvae found inside trees, the peck also serves as a means of communication and sign of territory ownership. Because the insects woodpeckers feed upon live deep inside long, winding tunnels within trees, woodpeckers come equipped with a tongue equal to the length of its body. Nesting anywhere there are trees, woodpeckers live alone, inside tree holes they’ve excavated.
Members of the heron group, egrets are tall, wading birds. New York currently hosts more than 1,000 breeding pairs on harbor islands, including the great egret, snowy egret, glossy ibis, and black- and yellow-crowned night herons. The colonies, which first emerged in New York around the 1970s, have been closely monitored by members of the Audubon Society. Egrets were previously seen in the city in the late 1800s, but they were nearly wiped out due to the popularity of hunting for the birds’ plumes.. Today the egrets build well-concealed nests close to the water, though the birds will venture to shore in search of various types of food.
With its ability to mimic many sounds around them (car alarms, human speech patterns), the starling is somewhat of a bird-beat-boxer. The first starlings brought to New York, in 1890, thrived, and now thousands of the birds can be found throughout the continent. Within New York, starlings prefer nesting in or on buildings, though some prefer living in the city’s parks and eating tree seeds.
Combined with its distinct “jay” call, the blue jay’s bright colors make it easy to spot in most locations, and the bird can be found throughout the city at all times during the year. Young jays exhibit an inclination toward all things bright, and can often be seen carrying reflective objects, such as bottle caps or pieces of aluminum foil. Though their striking appearance may warrant a closer look, don’t get too close too near—when blue jays sense an enemy approaching, they begin shrieking, causing any jays in the vicinity to join and drive off the enemy together.
Despite being the most widespread game bird in North America, the mourning dove remains among the ten most abundant birds in the U.S. With their ability to live in almost any area, except swamps and thick forests, the birds can be spotted nesting in trees in New York City. Mourning doves have also developed effective teamwork skills—in nest building, the male stands on the female’s back, handing her materials so she can weave their new dwelling. The bird’s major nemesis comes in the form of a mouth-dwelling parasite called trichomonas, which can which can result in the host’s death from starvation.
With a need to live perched high above ground level high above the ground , peregrine falcons have found a number of well-suited homes within New York City. Though their numbers are still relatively low, at least 18 more pairs nested in the city in 2005, and places like Bowling Green have become prime spots for peregrine spotting. And in 2001, the city’s Parks Commission reported that more than 145 falcons have been successfully hatched and banded since 1983. Cruising at speeds of 40 to 55 miles per hour, the falcon can dive through the air at 200 miles per hour, knocking down its prey (primarily other birds) with its talons, and swooping down to catch the falling quarry.
Though native to the northeastern region, the northern cardinal began breeding in urban areas only about 30 years ago, colonizing the southern and suburban parts of the city. Male cardinals are such fierce defenders of their breeding territory that they will often spend hours fighting with their glass reflection, thinking it’s an intruder. The female plays a role, relaying information through her song that guides the male back to his home after he catches food.
The goldfinch is perhaps one of the only animals benefiting from deforestation, as the destruction of trees creates open meadow areas, the bird’s preferred habitat. As one of the country’s most abundant birds, goldfinches can be found nearly anywhere, most commonly in parks and gardens. Spotting goldfinches is often tricky, as the bird changes colors throughout the year. In the summer, males are a vibrant yellow, turning an olive color during winter, while the female develops a dull-yellow shade, brightening only slightly during the summer.
Of the 166 species of butterflies in New York State, more than 134 have been seen in NYC. The most common, the monarch, passes through the city from destinations as far-flung as Canada, often making stops along the city’s beaches and parks during its fall migration. In the city, however, butterflies typically live less than their usual one-month lifespan due to increased threats from predators, disease and cars. And though butterflies have begun making the voyage south, the American Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Conservatory reopens October 6, housing more than 500 butterflies in a tropical rain-forest environment.
Due to development, the city’s white-tailed deer population has decreased over time, but it’s recently been on the rise. Thanks to recent conservation and habitat-management efforts, the deer can be found throughout can be found in many parts of the city, close to where the urban areas meet the suburbs. And in early March 2007, in fact, the deer were spotted in locations throughout the Bronx and Staten Island.
New York’s state animal played a major role in the city’s early economic history through the popularity of its valuable pelts. Though the fur trade, which continued well into the 19th century, depleted the local beaver population, the animal’s face has been included in city seals since 1623. Despite major blows to their population, it’s been estimated that there are between 10 and 15 million beavers in the U.S. And if you want to spot a beaver but are too lazy to trek into the wild? Head to the Astor Place subway station—there, the animal that was the source of John Jacob Astor’s wealth is memorialized in ceramic plaque form.
After decades of absence, seals were first noticed again in the New York area around 2001, and their numbers have continued to grow. Initially seen only near Hoffman and Swinburne Islands off the coast of Staten Island, harbor seals have made their way to the waters off Manhattan and elsewhere. In 2005, 1,200 seals were spotted near Long Island and Connecticut, and in the same year, 26 were seen off Orchard Beach in the Bronx. And with their large bodies (they can grow up to 6.6 feet long) and tendency to travel in groups that can number up to several hundred, harbor seals are hard to miss.
New York can count at least two wild turkeys as residents among its population —Zelda takes up residence in Battery Park, while Hedda Gobbler lives in Morningside Park. Residents have also reported seeing the animals roaming throughout Central, Inwood and Riverside Parks in recent years. The heaviest members? order, wild turkeys can weigh up to 18 pounds, and have an average wingspan of 4.8 feet. But despite recent sightings, don’t expect to see wild turkeys soon—they try their best to avoid humans.
In 2006, 220 visitors to Taco Bell restaurants throughout the city left with more than just a chalupa. After eating, each of the diners experienced symptoms related to E. coli poisoning, a bacterium that causes diarrhea in adults, but can lead to serious illness or death in young children. In the case of New York’s second outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants, the E. coli bacteria was transmitted through prepackaged iceberg lettuce, but E. coli can also travel through water contaminated with fecal matter, as humans expel E. coli from their body every day. Though a company in Canada created a vaccine to treat the bacteria in cows, no E. coli vaccine for humans has yet been developed.
Commonly referred to as staph, the resistant forms of this bacteria made their infectious mark in 1995.. The leading cause of hospital infections, staph killed 1,400 people staying in the city’s hospitals that year, and cost the city more than $435 million, primarily on increased hospital stays, treatment and expensive antibiotics. Staph can be found outside medical buildings as well, causing food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and skin infections in dogs and cats.
In addition to common cases of strep throat, this bacterium can also cause meningitis and pneumonia. Streptococcus divides continuously, splitting cells and growing in chains or pairs. Despite its ability to lead to serious illness, a nonpathogenic form of the bacteria can be found in human bodies, residing primarily in the mouth, skin, upper respiratory tract and intestines.
Though not a fatal type of bacteria, shigella makes it presence known in a variety of unpleasant symptoms: fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Sickness results when proper hand washing is not exercised, with symptoms lasting up to several months. In New York, 1,328 cases of illness caused by shigella were reported from December 1986 to May 1987. The outbreak primarily affected Brooklyn’s Jewish community following the Passover holiday, with relatives visiting from out-of-state or country acting as the transmitters of the bacteria.
A bacterium that causes typhoid fever and foodborne illness, salmonella was the source of a summer 2001 outbreak of illness, transmitted through packages of ready-to-eat pork. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While patients recover after five to ten days, there is no immediate cure for salmonella infection. But with a fatality rate of less than 1 percent, most cases don’t require major medical attention.
These harmless parasites reside on and along the tooth and gum line, and eats food or other organic matter found on teeth. Even consistent brushing won’t scare them off: The entrance of a toothbrush in the mouth causes tooth amoeba to duck into spaces where they cannot be washed away.
Though nearly microscopic in size, dust mites can cause serious health damage, and are the No. 1 cause of asthma and other allergic reactions throughout the world. Most commonly found in urban environments, dust mites feed on organic detritus, such as shreds of dead skin, and thrive in home environments. The next time you empty a full vacuum cleaner bag, you may smell the dust mite’s enzymes.
A tiny parasite found near the hair follicles of mammals, this mite feeds on skin cells, hormones and sebum produced by the skin. Parasites are transferred between hosts through eyelashes, hair and sebaceous glands, and live for several weeks. And though they can reach infestation rates as high as 98 percent on the elderly (children, with fewer amounts of sebum, have much lower levels of the parasite), the mites are virtually harmless.