(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog — by Chris Thawley)
While our research generally focuses on the effects of invasive fire ants on fence lizards, we also observe interactions between fence lizards and other ants. In general, both fire ants and native ants are prey for fence lizards; juvenile fence lizards especially have a high proportion of ants in their diet. It’s not uncommon to see a fence lizard camped out on a downed log or tree trunk, snapping up ants as they walk by like a conveyor belt of lizard snacks.
While fire ants can pose a significant threat to fence lizards due to their venomous stings and ability to recruit very quickly to attack, native ants are not defenseless. We got a great reminder of this a few days ago due to the diligence of students in the Auburn University Wildlife Sciences Summer Practicum. I had just given them a quick presentation on our research along with tips and a demonstration of how to noose lizards. We roamed the Solon Dixon grounds searching for all types of lizards (including green anoles, skinks, and racerunners) to observe and noose.
Later in the morning, as I was working in the lizard room, two students knocked on my door with a previously unmarked lizard for me to take measurements of. As I examined her, I noticed that she had a strange feature on her face: an eyebrow piercing! An ant had latched on to and attacked the scale above her eye (a weak spot in a lizard’s armor that ants often exploit).
Fortunately, the ant had not attacked her eye scale itself, so her vision should continue to be good (although she may keep a better eye out for ants from now on!). I removed the ant and preserved it in ethanol for later identification. On examining the tree trunk where she had been caught, I noticed a now unmolested parade of the same native black ants trundling upwards into the canopy. Meanwhile, back at the Pond House for lunch, I took a quick gander at the ant under our dissecting scope and tentatively identified it as a member of the genus Crematogaster, a group of ants with neat, heart-shaped abdomens (I’ll need someone more familiar with ant taxonomy to fully identify it).