Dancing with the Ants

on April 1, 2009

Fire ants can give a very painful sting to people. But if a dozen of them sting the small fence lizard, it can mean death in a single minute.

Penn State University biologist Tracy Langkilde has been studying how fence lizards respond to fire ants. She has observed that some of the lizards have longer legs. When ants crawl onto these lizards, the lizards dance around to shake them off. These lizards are more common in areas where fire ants live.

The dancing removes the ants before they can sting the soft underbelly of the lizard. The long legs help the lizards fling off the ants more quickly. Dr. Langkilde has said that this proves that the lizards had “a rapid evolutionary response to fire ants.” That makes it sound as if the lizards that were attacked by fire ants somehow decided they needed longer legs—and learned to dance!

When Dr. Langkilde studied various kinds of baby lizards, she saw that they all started out dancing. Some of the lizards stopped dancing when they got older, but the others continued dancing.

Instead of using the lizards to prove evolution, we can see that the lizards already have these abilities, even if some stop using them. The lizards that have longer legs and continue dancing survive better in areas where there are fire ants. They are more likely to breed and produce more long-legged dancing lizards. In areas where there are no fire ants, the short- and long-legged lizards have an equal chance of surviving. They produce young, some with short legs and some with long legs, some that stop dancing and some that don’t.

This doesn’t prove evolution. It shows how our Creator built genetic variety into each species. This helps each species adapt to different conditions. In fire ant country, it is good to be a long-legged, dancing lizard!