Atta laevigata is one of about a dozen species of leafcutter
ants in the genus Atta, found from Colombia south to Paraguay. This
species is one of the largest leafcutter species, and can be recognized by the
smooth and shining head of the largest workers in a colony.
Left: Atta laevigata
Atta laevigata is known in
northern South America as hormiga culona (roughly translated as "large-bottomed
ant) or as bachaco. It has been eaten for hundreds of years, as a tradition
inherited of pre-Columbian cultures as the Guanes. The ants are harvested for
about nine weeks every year, at the time of the rainy season, which is when they
make the nuptial flight. A. laevigata are used as traditional gifts in weddings.
There are local beliefs that the ants are aphrodisiacs.
The harvesting is done by local peasants who are often wounded by the ants,
since the ants have strong mandibles. Only the queens are collected, because the
other ants are not edible. The legs and wings are removed; after that, the ants
are soaked in salty water and roasted in ceramic pans.
The main centers of
production of ants are the municipalities of San Gil and Barichara. From there,
the trade of ants is extended to Bucaramanga and Bogotá, where the packages
containing ants are often seen during the season. The exportation of this
product is mainly made to Canada, England and Japan.