Red ants a delicacy for Jharkhand tribals

Ranchi: The sight of a column of soldier ants can frighten anyone, but for the tribals of Jharkhand, these ants indicate a good meal.

The tribals catch the soldier ants, also called red ants, mainly found on trees and eat them along with their eggs, either raw or cooked.

Tribal elders believe red ants have medicinal qualities.

"Red ants taste a little sweet and a little sour. I enjoying drinking water after having them... Red ants are available in summer season," said Ram Singh Munda, a tribal.

Tribal people, who cannot afford a regular protein diet, often consume adult ants in the form of chutney. For the chutney, ants are mashed up with salt, red chillies and mustard oil, and are eaten with stale rice.

"People are fond of eating red ants, here. Some people sell it Rs 2-5 per 'dona' (a small bowl made of leaves)," said Ashok Kumar, a customer.

Some shops in village markets stock soldier ants, as they are much in demand.

Hunting for nests of soldier ants is a favourite pastime for youngsters, who scout dense forests for ants of "good" quality.

Soldier ants are small and coppery-brown in colour, especially around the head and body, with a darker abdomen. They come at a variety of sizes within a single nest, ranging from 2 mm to 6 mm.

These ants do not have a stinger, but inflict a painful bite, which is aggravated by irritating chemicals (formic acids) that is secreted from their abdomen.