Hormigas culonas, the Colombian ants
Hormigas culonas in Spanish, Colombia.
Leaf-cutter ants or Big-bottomed ants in English
Where can you find this insect?
We discover this ant species in Colombia, more exactly at Bucaramanga and San Gil in Santander region (blue circle on the map). Those big-bottomed ants are sold in the street and in restaurants. A similar species called hormigas chicatanas can be found in Mexico.
The ants belong to the reproductive caste. During the rainy season in April and May, the future queens fly away to get fertilized by male ants between 7am and 4pm. They’re collected just before the flight, close to the cities of San Gil and Barichara. But beware, it needs meteorological conditions really specifics for the ants to leave the anthill and they go out only five to six days a year !
Hormigas culonas live in symbiosis with a mushroom they cultivate (Leucoagaricus). It means that one can’t live without the other. How does it work ? The worker ants cut some leaves and feed the mushroom with it. Then the ants feed on that mushroom! That’s why breeding those ants is hard because you also need the mushroom. Nevertheless, some institutes already run some ants farms, such as the Natural History Museum of Genève, in Switzerland.
Hormigas culonas are sold in the region of Santander for 250€/kg still alive, and 500€/kg once cooked in a frying pan. They can also be found on Ebay for 800€/kg ! Why is it so expansive ? Well, these ants are becoming increasingly rare because of the over-collection and the growing request from all over the world!
Hormigas culonas nly the wings are taken off because it may irritate the throat. Moreover culona ants are really bigger than the chicatana ants, with the size of a bee. But don’t worry, they don´t have a sting ! Knowing this, we made just one mouthful of the ants we bought, fried and a bit salted, in a street of Bucaramanga. The toasted ants taste like peanuts (“mani” in spain), with a crispy texture !
Culona ants are usually fried or grilled in a pan and dusted with salt according to tastes. However some restaurants like Color de Hormiga in Barichara (Calle 8, No. 8-44; 726-7156) offer a more elaborated cooking based on these ants such as a filet mignon garnished with toasted ants in sauce !
Last but not least, hormigas culonas are also known for their aphrodisiac properties !
Nutritional composition of hormigas culonas
|Moisture content||6 %|
Source: Richard Jesús Cedeño Giron et al., Exploring the Food Nutritional Potential of 3 Edible Amazonian Arthropods, Revista Etnobiologia. Vol 15, Num. 1. Abril 2017. pp: 26-31
If you are interested in a more detailed analysis, fell free to contact us !