I’d contacted a member of http://www.bugguide.net/, a pretty cool group that posts images of North American insects and other arthropods; identifies the species, collates geographical information, etc, etc. My contact lives in Texas and had posted images of leaf-cutter ants – specifically the alates, meaning the winged reproductives that some types of colony-living insects send out at specific times. In this case that would be, more or less, in the second half of May.
These ants [in the genus Atta] are cherished delicacies in Colombia and other places between there and the U.S. Were it not for concerns about slowing down these posts with lots of extra text I’d cite some intriguing stuff about the Spaniards, when they arrived in what became Colombia, scorning the local caviar, as it was thought of, only to attempt seizing control of the ant colonies once they got a taste for the insects. This decision provoked an uprising from the natives. Those interested in reading this for themselves can find it here.
Though at first that Texas connection wrote that -- had missed the brief emergence-time of those winged queen ants, word later came that -- had been successful after all! Very exciting news.
At length the large box arrived [note my foot for scale, and that I've cleverly obscured the sender's address on the shipping document]
inside was a Styrofoam cooler,
and inside that was OVER TWO POUNDS of ants.
They’re beautiful, impressive insects.
The real question, though: how do they taste? The morning after I got them I laid a few down on a hot iron skillet. I tried both winged and wing-free individuals; unlike those of the cicadas, these wings really did get in the way. The flavor is very nice; surprisingly mild.
I’ve tried these ants before – pre-packaged [and quite expensive.] The flavor is very intense, almost harsh. I’ve heard that fresh off the vendor’s cart in Colombia they’re heavenly (and, again, quite expensive). The ants are still enjoyed today, and are called “hormigas culonas,” or ‘big-bottom ants’ due to their impressive abdomens.
Given that I've greatly enjoyed these ants in other settings, I'm pretty certain that I can make them taste even better.
This item is just the kind of thing that those few discerning customers ask for; the ones who want more from life than the standard crickets and mealworms. When this happens I'm ready.
Also worth mentioning: I've seen one or two websites centered on the harvest and preparation of these ants in Colombia. Not altogether surprisingly, these sites are in Spanish, which I cannot translate. So getting some help with that would be great...
On the other side of the plate are the mopani worms; they shall have their own substantial post at some point.... Boy, would I love to get a source of those!!
As for the Texan ants: my source mentioned having some ideas for, hopefully, an even bigger harvest next Spring.