Zompopos FAQ

Zompopos, the leaf cutter queen ants by Rudy Girón

This year the May Zompopos actually did arrive in May.

Even though the Guatemalan winged sompopo ant appears every year in May, on average most Guatemalans know very little about them (myself included). So, I decided to ask around to the people who have more knowledge about the sompopos; their answers are very enlightening and myth busters.

Are you ready to drop your jaw and say, “ah… I did not know that”?

Myth #1: May’s Sompopos Ants are males
No. May’s Sompopos, the winged kind you see in the picture above, are actually queen sompopo ants and they come out and fly away from the ground to fund new sompopo colonies.

Myth #2: May’s Sompopos Ants fall from the sky
No. They actually come out the ground and because these are queens; they need to find new fertile territories to build new sompopo colonies. In nature wisdom, these sompopo queens were provided with wings so they can fly as far away as possible.

Myth #3: Sompopos Ants are only available in May
No. Sompopo ants are actually available throughout the year. Sompopo ants are 4 to 5 times bigger than ordinary ants. Sompopo ants are red and devilish furious. Sompopo ants do not have wings. Sompopo ants are smaller in size than the “Sompopo queen ants” which have wings and come out in May to build new colonies. The sompopo queens are known as “sompopos de mayo” while the sompopo ants are just called “sompopos comunes” (ordinary sompopo ants). Sompopos are hormigas (ants). May’s sompopo queens are only seen in May; thus their name (duh!). They remained underground the rest of the year, as any good ant queen should do.

Fact #1: May’s Sompopos Ants are edible
Yes, May’s sompopo queens are collected by some Guatemalans who remove the belly bottom and roast them on a comal (baked clay griddle), add salt and lime juice. Those who have tried them say that sompopos taste like butter or chicharrones (pork rinds).

Actually, May’s Sompopo Queen Ants could be considered the “Mayan Caviar” since the part removed from them is loaded with ants eggs. In other words, the belly bottom of the sompopo queen ant is the equivalent of the roe of fish.

Fact #2: May’s Sompopos Ants are used in fights
Yes, May’s sompopo queens are collected by some Guatemalans kids and taken to school to fight other sompopo ants. Since these sompopo ants are queens in search of new dwellings to build their own colonies, they are highly ferocious and territorial. Kids are ignorant of the sompopo ants processes and life cycles and thus they use them as fighters; similar to cockfights.

Fact #3: May’s Sompopos Ants are disappearing
Yes, May’s sompopo queens are disappearing and are completely non-existant in many parts of Guatemala that used to have them not too long ago. The less May’s sompopo queens you see, the less colonies they will build. If the sompopo ant disappears, who knows what the ecological catastrophe this will ensue.

Please, if you have any other myths, facts or anecdotes to share with the rest of us, feel free to add them to the comments.

© 2012, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • NYChapin

    Rudy, you are too funny… I think you just invented a couple of new names that can be used to describe some of the characters walking around Antigua: Sompopo Queen and Sompopo Luchador !

    Fact: they are also eaten in Colombia, where they are called
    Hormigas Culonas !

    • Yeah, I found the website http://zompopos.org/ where they have all kinds of information about the leaf cutting ants. 

  • Fact: There is one Sompopo that still lives in Tucker Georgia. 🙂

  • Eric

    I know you have already shown us the size of these ants in previous entries, but seeing them next to the 10-centavo monedas puts it into perspective for me.  Beautifully composed shot, Rudy.  My jaw was already dropped when I saw the foto !

    • Yeah, the best way to show size is to include a reference in the picture.

  • David

    Ignorant? nah man, it was school day politics. 

    • School day politics, hah?! I see.