The Ant

This legend has clear reference to the issue of albinism in the tropical rainforest, where the pigmentless organisms are definitely rare; quite opposite, the manifestation of melanism is quite common, giving those individuals with dark pigmentation a more frequent presence in the pantheon of jungle myths, including the black panther (Panthera onca), the black cougar (Puma concolor), the black bushmaster (Lachesis muta), the great black hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga), cusumbo (Potos flavus), and night monkey (Aotus lemurinus).  

The ant myth represents what people in the Upper Amazon refer as Washiska: the surprising, often oxymoronic, realization of the elements of the rainforest ecosystem. With the contrasting view of beauty and serenity with the notion of fear and ugliness. As a curious consequence of a worldview of “other” inhabitants of the mountain forests (e.g., gnomes, duendes, tululah, etc.) the presence of “dwarfs” in the narrative resembles the notion of amicable entities that are stewards of the jungle and provide its bounty if you let them alone… Once they are noticed, they either disappear or become dangerously upset and menacing. 

The contrasting good/bad or white/black dichotomy of the story is highlighted with the use of insects, namely wasps, bees, and ants. Unlike the common ‘africanized’ bees (Apis mellifera), the myth presents the stingless bees (Melipona eburnean, M. lota); instead of the dangerous even poisonous wasp (Pepsis formosa), the myth presents the friendly helper for cross pollination and spider control needed in the tropical environment (Apoica pallens); and instead of the fierce power of the fire ants or the bullet ant venom (Solenopsis invicta; Paraponera clavata), the story of ‘intelligent’ army ants locking their bodies to bridge difficult terrain conditions (Eciton burchellii) becomes the top predator of Upper Amazonia. 

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