For some of us, ant folklore begins and ends with the 1998 animated film Antz, in which a neurotic ant tries to find love with an ant princess while rebelling against the totalitarian society of the ant colony. But ant folklore goes far beyond Hollywood. The industrious ant, with its cooperative spirit, has long played a role in folklore and mythology in many cultures throughout the world.
In China, some of the attributes given to ants have to do with semantics. The Chinese word for ant, yi, is phonetically close to the word yo, or virtue (the words differ only in tone). As such, in some stories ants are symbols of patriotism and honorable conduct. However, ants are also recognized as symbols of self-interest. A village headman with his hand in every business deal might be called an ant because of his constant attention to his own interests.
In parts of India, it is believed that treating ants well will ensure prosperity and plenty. Some place sugar near ant colonies in the morning as an act of good charity which will result in good luck throughout the day.
Ants play a significant role in the mythology of Native Americans of the Southwest. The Hopi say ants were the very first creatures on earth. When the creator Sotuknang later planned to destroy the world by fire, he instructed humans to move underground with the ants. While living in colonies, humans were educated by ants. People were taught to gather food in the summer for use in the winter. They learned how to keep cool when it was hot, and warm when it was cold. Ants also taught humans a spirit of peace and cooperation.
Ants are even used to predict the weather in Texas. Ants might be seen bringing their eggs up out of the colony into the sun to hatch. But if the ants begin to hastily take the eggs back underground, a storm is brewing even if the sky is cloudless.