Deep in the Brazilian rainforest, a biologist discovered a fascinating phenomenon taking place on a tree branch above him. A little bird perched in a quiet slumber was disturbed by a large moth, casually sipping liquid from the bird’s eye. Catching the strange behavior once more before the night ended, he distiguished Brazil as only the third country where such behavior has been recorded.
A light bite
This behavior, known as lachryphagy (tear-feeding) is well documented with animals such as mammals and reptiles. However, it has only been confirmed a precious few times on birds – a dangerous gambit, as many bird species prey on moths and butterflies.
Lachryphagy is just one of several ways butterflies and moths get vital proteins and minerals like sodium which they need to produce eggs. Sipping the surface water from puddles is another method they use for fluid gathering aptly named “mud-puddling”.
Parasite, or paramour?
Traditional symbiotic relationships between two or more animal species generally result in all parties involved gaining something from a strange degree of cooperation. It’s unclear whether the host animal receives any benefit from the feeding moths or butterflies, but they don’t seem particularly bothered by it.
Leandro Moraes, the biologist who captured the fantastical scenes below, suspects lachryphagy may increase the chances of birds developing diseases. This is because the eye is one of the easiest barriers for germs and viruses to bypass when attempting to enter the body.
Some kind of monster
Human beings in Thailand have also been subject to nighttime tear theft by moths. Other species of moth, notably some members of genus calypta, have been known to use their long proboscis to suck blood from invertabrates, mammals, and even humans.