Ants are not often the most beloved or well-received creatures. They can be pests and are often difficult to get rid of once they’ve found a food source which they like. (1) The humble ant may be a nuisance sometimes, but this insect is also a fascinating member of the animal kingdom.
Although each individual ant is tiny, weak, and generally powerless, as a collective ants are capable of shaping their environment in ways few other creatures can. Ants are powerhouses which remind us to never underestimate the power of determination and cooperation.
Table of contents
- Ant Symbolism and meaning
- Ant Native American Symbolism
- Ant Eastern Symbolism
- Ant Christianity Symbolism
- Ant Celtic Symbolism
- Ant African Symbolism
- Ant in Dreams
- Ant Encounters and Omens
- Ant Mythology and Folklore
- Ant Spirit Animal
- Ant Totem Animal
- Ant Power Animal
- Ant Tattoo Meaning
Ant Symbolism and Meaning
Ants live almost everywhere on earth and thrive in most ecosystems. (2) Their abilities to modify habitats, exploit resources, and defend themselves are unparalleled amongst insects, and have contributed to their significant global presence.
The ants’ colonies, known as anthills, are some of the most impressive structures found in nature and are good examples of structured organizations. The ant is a symbol of industrial creativity and hard work. Ants remind us to innovate and improve our communities. (3)
These tiny insects travel long distances to bring food to the anthill, and can carry twenty times their own body weight. (4) Thus, ants can represent hidden strength, potential, and perseverance.
Ants tend to act with the best interests of their collective colony in mind. They do not behave like individuals, but like cogs within a well-oiled machine. This can connect them with community, unity, and modesty, however they can also be tied to conformity, hierarchy, and oppression.
Ants tend to be aggressive when disturbed. Many species of ants bite intruders within their territories. Some may even envenomate their enemies or spit acid from a poison gland. (5) Thus, ants can represent protection, hostility, and unsociability.
Ant Native American Symbolism
The ant is an important figure in Native American folklore and mythology. These diligent insects feature in many legends including the creation myth of the Cahuilla people and the Hopi story about the end of the first world. (6)
Hopi legends state that the first world ended in fire. During this calamity, the Ant People saved the Hopi by taking them to underground caves. (7)
Some Native American peoples from northern California believed that ants could predict earthquakes. They were thought to influence the forces of nature so that it was forbidden to disturb their anthills. In certain South American groups, ants represent might, courage, and masculinity.
Because some ant species have such painful stings, ants in South and Central America are sometimes thought of as mighty warriors. In certain cultures, a young man would even be expected to undergo a rite of passage into adulthood involving ants. In these cases, the young initiate would prove his strength and endurance by exposing his bare skin to painful ant bites or stings. (8)
Ants are not a common clan animal; however, some tribal groups are associated with the ant. The Pima tribe was once divided among the Red Ant clan and the White Ant clan. (9)
According to a Salish legend, the Ant woman won the daytime from the Creator after defeating the Bear in a dance contest. (10) Ants symbolize unity, daylight, perseverance, courage, patience, and hard work.
Ant Eastern Symbolism
Ant symbols are present on the Asian continent, although they are rarely depicted in works of art. Chinese people consider the ant a righteous insect, a symbol of virtue and selflessness. Instead of serving his individual whims, the ant risks his own life each day to ensure the prosperity of the colony.
The industrious insect is also a symbol of servitude and obedience. This symbolism may be caused by the fact that the Chinese word for ant resembles the word for virtue. (11)
In the Philippines, some still believe in an old superstition which states that anthills represent entrances to the mystical kingdoms where ancient gods dwell.
Because of this belief, many people avoid interacting with anthills. They may avoid even gazing upon these structures for fear of the otherworldly forces which they may contain. In spite of this, having ants in the house is considered a sign of good luck.
One of the most interesting Korean stories describes how the ant ended up with such a small waist. This story also features the grasshopper and waterbird. According to this tale, the ant’s tiny waist is the result of a fit of laughter. (12)
Japanese mythology features a “Yokai,” or supernatural entity, named “Oari.” This Yokai is the dead spirit of an ant, and it hits people with a big wooden hammer. (13)
Thai people tell the story of the cicada and the ant, which is similar to one of Aesop’s fables. The story’s moral is always to be prepared. While the cicada spent the summer singing, the ant spent its summer preparing for winter.
Ant Christianity symbolism
We often find ants mentioned in the Bible as a symbol of collaboration, focus, and devotion. There are many references to ants in the Bible, and these insects are emblems for teamwork and community.
Ants working together are the perfect example to follow for men. Throughout Christian traditions, ants are frequently used as teaching tools to illustrate the power and virtue of a hard-working community. Although the ants are considered weak animals, they can exercise great influence when their energy is pointed in the right direction.
Ants working together is a symbol of unity, and an endorsement of the greater good.
Ants in the Bible can also symbolize carefulness and responsibility. Just as these insects gather and store food, we all should gather good deeds and plan for our spiritual future.
The ant’s specific virtues are important biblical teaching tools. Additionally, the role of the ant as a teacher is an excellent reminder to humble oneself and to look to nature for important lessons.
Ant Celtic Symbolism
The ant may not be the mightiest creature in Celtic folklore, however their ability to build anthills firmly connects these insects with the Otherworld.
In Celtic mythology, mounds are important spiritual sights. Celtic myths indicate that mounds are the places where the world of humanity connects with the Otherworld. This Otherworld is the land of gods and fairy folk. In many Celtic myths, a hero begins his journey into the Otherworld by entering a mound or falling asleep atop a mound. (14)
Because ants are prolific builders of anthills, they can be thought of as guardians of the barrier between the world of men and the world of magic. In some ancient Celtic traditions, mounds are used as burial sites. For this reason, ants may also be associated with death, mourning, decay, and the afterlife.
Ant African Symbolism
In many of Africa’s cultural traditions, the ant is seen as a token of diligence and community.
The Kuba people from Central Africa have a beautiful legend about the creation of the world which heavily features ants.
It is believed that Nyonye Ngana, son of the creator god Mbombo, created a race of white ants, but died shortly after. The ants dug out black soil from inside of the earth to bury him and thus transformed the earth’s surface. (15)
The Kabyl and Berber tribes from North Africa tell a story about the ant who taught the first humans how to use grains and plants.
According to legend, the first man and woman lived underground, and the ant showed them how to grow wheat and make bread.
The Maasai people appreciate ants due to their courage and their supposed healing powers. The powerful jaws of driver ants are sometimes used as stitches by Maasai warriors. Thus, these creatures are connected with medicine. (16)
Populations throughout Africa value ants for their incredible characteristics. Diligent workers and ingenious architects, these insects are rich with symbolic meaning on the African continent.
Ant in Dreams
What does it mean to dream about ants? In many cases, ant dreams are connected with work ethic. In some cases, they may also represent the feeling of insignificance, suppression, or loss of control.
Dreaming of red ants specifically indicates anger, annoyance, or vitriol. The red ant dream points to building anger which needs to be expressed before it culminates in an explosion of wrath. Even smaller annoyances can add up to something extreme if they are never confronted or dealt with.
Dreaming of a white ant indicates a desire to stand out from the crowd. A white ant dream is a sign that you need to find a creative outlet to express your inner thoughts before your spirit begins to wither.
Dreaming of a swarm of ants is a surefire sign that you feel troubled by a loss of control in some area of your life. This helpless feeling is often accompanied by anxiety or dread.
Finally, an ant dream may indicate vulnerability. Ants are often used as an example of the most insignificant creature on earth. Dreaming of ants may mean that some part of you feels as helpless as the ant is. Remember, though, that like the ant you have unexpected strengths.
Ant Encounters and Omens
Ants are very common to encounter and may not necessarily hold any personal meaning beyond a reminder to do a better job vacuuming crumbs and sealing leftover snacks. Even when specific personal meanings are absent, though, every encounter with nature is an opportunity to soak up some wisdom.
Some believe that ants in one’s home is good luck because it signifies an excess of resources. Ants may also indicate progress, so ants in the home can be a good sign for career advancement. If nothing else, groups of ants remind us to prepare ahead for the busy periods in life in order to avoid being overwhelmed.
While ants in the house aren’t always pleasant, red ants in the home are even worse! A red ant in one’s home can represent nagging anxiety or stressors.
A single ant in one’s home can be a reminder that we cannot succeed without relying on others. On their own, ants just wander aimlessly and are easily done away with. Once their compatriots pick up the trail, though, a group of ants is much more formidable.
Ant Mythology and Folklore
Ants are an essential figure in different mythologies and cultures. We already learned about the Salish myth of creation in America and the story of the evil Yokai Oari from Japan.
The ant also plays an interesting role in Greek mythology. The Greek word for ant is “myrmekes,” and it was believed that people Thessaly were descendants of ants. (17)
The legend says that a son of Zeus, Aecus, was the king of the island of Thessaly. After a great famine, Aecus was faced with the impossible task of protecting his home land despite an unfortunate shortage of men due to the great famine. (18)
He asked his divine father for help, and Zeus changed all of the ants of the island into men. These men were fierce warriors and were known as Myrmidons. Achilles, the strong hero from Homer’s Iliad, was the one who led the Myrmidons. (19)
Another Greek myth speaks of Myrmex, an attic girl who was devoted to and beloved by the goddess of wisdom, Athena. When Athena invented the plough, Myrmex betrayed her by declaring that this device was her own invention. For this audacity, the goddess transformed Myrmex into a humble ant. (20)
As you can see, the ant is an important figure in many mythologies. While there are a range of roles for ants in mythology, they most commonly embody traits like ferocity, courage, and industriousness.
Ant Spirit Animal
The ant spirit animal is associated with hidden strength and community. People with this spirit animal are hard-working and humble. Although they are rarely outgoing or overly expressive, people with the ant spirit animal are extraverted and feel most at home when working on a team or building up a community of supportive loved ones.
The ant spirit animal is level-headed and rarely makes rash decisions or hasty judgments. Although they treat others calmly and fairly, people with the ant spirit animal may need reminders to treat themselves kindly. If necessary, they will gladly sacrifice their own comfort, happiness, or even safety in the name of the greater good.
Ant Totem Animal
The people with the ant totem are diligent and responsible. The ant totem reminds us that Rome was not built in a day; that is to say that this totem animal teaches us to work towards our goals step by step with focus and patience.
The ant animal totem inspires you to focus on your capabilities and make the most of them. If you feel lost and unsure which path you must follow, the ant totem gives you a clear vision of what is needed.
People with ant totems are diligent, responsible, and love to be part of a team. Selfless and dedicated, the ant folks are those who will always complete tasks. If the ant is your totem animal, you will fiercely defend your group.
Despite its size, the ant never backs down from a challenge. Look to the ant totem when you are in need of an infusion of courage or when life’s challenges make you feel helpless. Though they are tiny, ants never give in to feelings of helplessness because they know what they are capable of when they work together.
Ant Power Animal
The ant power animal can be a helpful spirit guide for those who worry that they have set foot on the wrong path. The ant power animal is sure-footed, wise, and grounded.
The ant power animal grants us the vision to focus on the things that matter and the things which we are capable of influencing or changing. The ant power animal grants us focus enough to ignore insignificant or inevitable things for the sake of completing our tasks.
Ants are almost always associated with unity and cooperation. The power of the ant allows us to protect our loved ones and to form communities around the things which matter the most to us.
Ant Tattoo Meaning
Ants are immediately recognizable symbols which have inspired people since ancient times. The rich symbolism of the ant makes it an interesting and meaningful choice for a tattoo design. Whether a tattoo is meant to represent goof fortune or hidden strength, the ant provides meaning while maintaining simplicity.
Although the ant may not seem like much, this humble creature can move mountains with enough determination and the right strategy. Even the most pedestrian of household pests can remind us of the awe-inspiring might of nature.
Next time an ant steals your crumbs or builds a mound on your lawn, remember that these miniscule creatures can bring good luck as well as annoyance. Their efficiency, hard work, discipline, and dedication to their colonies are positive examples to us all.