As Gail mentioned in a previous post, one avenue of our lab’s research involves looking at the behavioral responses of fence lizards to fire ants. These behaviors include leg twitches, tail writhing, full body jumps and shakes, head wipes, and eating attacking fire ants. We also are currently investigating how these responses vary with context; to whit, we want to know whether fence lizards respond differently to fire ants based on whether those ants are defending their mound or if the ants are out foraging for food.
Fire ants, like many ant species, will construct foraging trails to a food source once it is discovered (as seen below).
Scout ants, upon encountering a food item, will lay down a pheromone trail that other ants will follow to allow them to feed and return with sustenance to the mound. To effectively study how lizards respond to ants in “foraging mode,” we need to generate lots of foraging trails of ants. And with ants, as with college students, if you want them to show up, you need to bribe them with food.
Previously, we’ve used both peanut butter (creamy…fire ants hate chunks) and hot dogs as fire ant bait.
Fire ants, like humans, are attracted to foods with lots of fat and protein (especially when they are brooding). This week, however, I stumbled upon an even more tempting proposition for the ants: good old bacon. At breakfast, I tucked a half-finished piece of bacon into my pocket, and scattered several chunks of it in the sandy area that we use for our foraging ant trials. Within 15 minutes, the bacon was swarming with fire ants, attracted to the high level of deliciousness of the baits. A visit from a hymenopteran in a yellow jacket brought a touch of class to the party (see below).
While we won’t be using bacon everyday to seed our foraging trails, we have definitively learned that fire ants share the human propensity for unhealthy but scrumptious foods.