Invasion of the Flying Edible Ants (Chicatanas)

This morning my classroom was invaded by huge flying bugs. I spent some time before class using the broom to swat out these loud buggers which appeared to be dying. I wasn’t completely successful as there were still one or two flying about when the first graders arrived. However, to my surprise, not only did the kids not freak out like they do when there is a wasp, bee or mosquito in the room, but they could identify them as an ant and reassured me that “no pasa nada”.

I mentioned the flying ants to another teacher and she said they always come before the rainy season begins. Some insist that they arrive June 23, the eve of the birthday of John the Baptist (provided Jesus was born on December 25). Others claim that they come with the summer solstice.  And still others say that they come June 13 in honor of the Patron Saint of Huatusco, San Antonio de Padua.

Typically, the chicatanas appear for one to three nights between June 12 and June 20, although sometimes the rainy season comes a bit earlier. Whatever the exact day, the conditions must be just right. Generally, the chicatanas appear after a hot day followed by a very wet, humid night. This year, those conditions were met on June 15/16, at least in Moroleon.

This was my first experience with the chicatanas, even though I’ve lived more than 10 years in Mexico. The chicatana, also called cuatalatas, chancharras, cochonas, arrieras, zompopo, mochomas, sontetas, nokú, tzim-tzim, tepeoani or tzicatl, is a species of the Atta genus (leaf-cutter ants). The Florentine codex referred to these insects as tzicatana (homiga arriera) and mentioned that they were used as food.

Used as food? Yep. Mexico has more than 250 edible insects, including this one. The chicatanas are prepared in a variety of ways, depending on the region, after their wings, heads and legs are removed. Sometimes fried and served in tacos, sometimes ground into salsa with garlic, salt, and chili, they are considered quite the delicacy.

Really, it’s just the queens that are eaten, as they are the huge buggers flying about looking to establish new colonies during this period. The food or salsa prepared from the queens is traditionally thought of as an aphrodisiac and may have something to do with the tradition in Huatusco when girls looking to be married visit the shrine of San Antonio de Padua with 13 coins to ask for his intervention on the matter. But then again, they could be unrelated.

I wasn’t able to find anyone who knew how to prepare the chicatanas, so missed out on trying yet another exotic Mexican food for this year. I’ll have to keep it in mind next year, where the queens swarm again.

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Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Native fauna and flora

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