The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Dancing Lessons

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Perhaps our lab’s most well-known research is related to how native fence lizards respond to invasive fire ants. The idea of lizards “dancing” to avoid a fire ant attack has popped up across the internet (we’re on cracked! and many other sites). Arguably the most interesting part of this research is that lizards from populations that have co-existed with fire ants for many generations behave differently than those from populations that do not occur with fire ants.  In general, lizards from fire ant invaded sites frequently perform this “dance,” while lizards from sites that have not been invaded do so far less frequently.

This May, we focused on deconstructing this lizard dance. In addition to recording whether a lizard twitches in response to fire ant attack, we recorded what kind of twitch it performed. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between an arm kick, a leg kick, a full body twitch, etc,  but a little slow-motion helps us see what’s really going on. Check it out!

Pretty neat!

For many mornings during our first trip south, Sean, Chris, Mark H, and I ran behavior trials with the lizards we caught in the previous weeks. These trials, in short, involved placing a lizard on either a fire ant mound or foraging trail and recording any behaviors the lizard displayed. If too many ants crawled on the lizard, we stopped the trial so as to minimize undue stress. The trials lasted at most 60 seconds: plenty of time for the lizard to react should it be compelled to do so.

Fence lizard ready to dance!

Fence lizard ready to dance.

We actually tested each lizard on both a fire ant mound and a foraging trail to see if lizards respond differently in different contexts. This meant we ran over 200 behavior trials across 6 mornings!

Sean and Mark conducting a behavior trial.

Sean and Mark conducting a behavior trial. (It’s so exciting the photo is blurry!)

Sean, Chris, and some of our undergraduates recently began another trip south. During this trip, they will run  similar behavior trials with other native herps. Stay tuned for more updates from them!

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Author: Gail McCormick

Science writer at Penn State University; papercrafter, ecologist, theatre-lover.

2 thoughts on “Dancing Lessons

  1. It’s great to see the twitches broken down into their component parts – thank you for posting the videos! Those lizards sure can dance!

  2. Pingback: Sweet Home Alabama | The Lizard Log

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