Myths and Facts about the Guatemalan Sompopo Ant

Guatemalan Sompopo Ants

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 a little 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.

LAGDP’s Entry Published by elPeriódico Side Note: As it turns out, thanks to Michelle Garzaro, editor of elPeriódico‘s Sunday supplement miPeriódico, today’s entry was translated into Spanish and published on Sunday, June 1st, 2008. I leave you the newspaper’s clip below, in case you want to read or see it. Like always, you click the thumbnail to view an enlarge version. elPeriódico is one of my favorite Guatemalan newspapers.

LAGDP's entry on Sompopos published by miPerió

The Disappeared Art Exhibit Side Note: If you are in La Antigua Guatemala right now or the following week, I recommend that you visit the exhibit Los Desaparecidos (The Disappeared) at the Compañí­a de Jesús building (6a avenida norte, between 3a & 4a calle poniente). The Inauguration is today at 5 p.m.; I hope to see you there.

Disappeared/Desaparecidos is a verb turned into noun to indicate those who were kidnapped, tortured and assassinated during the recent military dictorships in Latin America.

This exhibit compiles the work of 25 Latin American artists who have created works of art originated from the subject of the forced disappearances throughout the last 30 years. (Freely translated from the poster below; please excuse the bad English translation)

Los Desaparecidos Poster

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