Meet the giant Guatemalan winged-leaf-cutter ant: Zompopo

Rudy Giron: AntiguaDailyPhoto.com &emdash; Guatemalan Giant Leaf Cutter Ant: Sompopo

Once again the May zompopo ants have arrived on time this year!

Here are some facts and myths about the giant leaf cutting ants.

Fact #1: Zompopo leaf cutting ants are edible
Yes, May’s zompopo 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 zompopos taste like butter or chicharrones (pork rinds).

Actually, zompopo 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: Zompopo ants are used in fights
Yes, zompopo queens are collected by some Guatemalans kids and taken to school to fight other zompopo ants. Since these zompopo ants are queens in search of new dwellings to build their own colonies, they are highly ferocious and territorial. Kids are not aware of the zompopo ant processes and life cycles, thus they use them as fighters; similar to cockfights.

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

Myth #1: Zompopo ants are males
No. Zompopos, the winged leaf-cutting kind you see in the picture above, are actually queen zompopo ants and they come out and fly away from the ground to build new zompopo ant colonies.

Myth #2: Zompopo 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 zompopo colonies. In nature wisdom, these sompopo queens were provided with wings so they can fly as far away as possible.

Myth #3: Zompopo 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.

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.

Here’s video clip showing how zompopos are collected and prepared as food in San Juan Sacatepéquez. If you know a little Spanish it might come handy to understand what they are doing. Enjoy!

© 2014, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • scott

    There could be a link between fact #3 and fact #1…

    • Do you think so?