Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Crocodile tears please thirsty butterflies and bees

Date:
May 1, 2014
Source:
Ecological Society of America
Summary:
A butterfly and bee were most likely seeking scarce minerals and an extra boost of protein. On a beautiful December day in 2013, they found the precious nutrients in the tears of a spectacled caiman relaxing on the banks of the Río Puerto Viejo in northeastern Costa Rica.

A Julia butterfly (Dryas iulia) and a solitary bee (Centris sp.) sip tears from the eyes of spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) on Costa Rica's Puerto Viejo River.
Credit: Carlos de la Rosa

The butterfly (Dryas iulia) and the bee (Centris sp.) were most likely seeking scarce minerals and an extra boost of protein. On a beautiful December day in 2013, they found the precious nutrients in the tears of a spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), relaxing on the banks of the Río Puerto Viejo in northeastern Costa Rica.

A boat carrying students, photographers, and aquatic ecologist Carlos de la Rosa was passing slowing and quietly by, and caught the moment on film. They watched [and photographed] in barely suppressed excitement for a quarter of an hour while the caiman basked placidly and the insects fluttered about the corners of its eyes.

De la Rosa reported the encounter in a peer-reviewed letter in the May 2014 issue of the Ecological Society of America's journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

"It was one of those natural history moments that you long to see up close," said de la Rosa, the director of the La Selva Biological Station for the Organization for Tropical Field Studies in San Pedro, Costa Rica. "But then the question becomes, what's going on in here? Why are these insects tapping into this resource?"

Though bountiful in the ocean, salt is often a rare and valuable resource on land, especially for vegetarians. It is not uncommon to see butterflies sipping mineral-laden water from mud puddles. When minerals are rare in the soil, animals sometimes gather salt and other rare minerals and proteins from sweat, tears, urine, and even blood.

De la Rosa had seen butterflies and moths in the Amazon feeding on the tears of turtles and a few caimans. Tear-drinking "lachryphagous" behavior in bees had only recently been observed by biologists. He remembered a 2012 report of a solitary bee sipping the tears of a yellow-spotted river turtle in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park. But how common is this behavior?

Back at the field station, he did a little research. He was surprised to find more evidence of tear-drinking than he expected in the collective online record of wilderness enthusiasts, casual tourists, professional photographers, and scientists. He now thinks the phenomenon may not be as rare as biologists had assumed -- just hard to witness.

"I did a Google search for images and I found out that it is quite common! A lot of people have recorded butterflies, and some bees, doing this," said de la Rosa.

A search of the scientific literature produced a detailed study of bees drinking human tears in Thailand, as well as the remembered October 2012 "Trails and Tribulations" story about the Ecuadorian bee and the river turtle by Olivier Dangles and Jérôme Casas in ESA's Frontiers. This experience reminds us that the world still has many surprises for ecologists, de la Rosa said. There so much still to be studied. De la Rosa is a specialist in the biology of non-biting midges, and a natural historian, with his eyes always open to new discoveries. Scientists at La Selva have discovered hundreds of species of aquatic insects that are still unnamed and undescribed.

"I have over 450 undescribed species from Costa Rica in my laboratory. If I did nothing for the rest of my life but collaborate with taxonomists and try to describe those, I would never get done," he said.

De la Rosa's job as director of La Selva Biological Station brings him an unusual number of serendipitous encounters with wildlife. He lives on site in the lowland rainforest, and he never needs an alarm clock. Howler monkeys wake him every morning.

"I learned I have to carry a camera with me 24/7, because you never know what you're going to find when you're walking to the office or the dining hall," he said. One day, he spied a new species of dragonfly on his way to breakfast. It had emerged from its larval form in the small pool of water caught in the cupped leaves of a bromeliad plant. He did a double-take. Dragonflies don't live on bromeliads. Or do they?

"Those are the kinds of things that, you know, you don't plan for them, you can't plan for them," de la Rosa said. There was only one known species of dragonfly in the world that lives in bromeliads. Now there will be two. "You just keep your eyes open and have curiosity, and when you see something that doesn't seem to fit, dig."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ecological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Carlos L de la Rosa. Additional observations of lachryphagous butterflies and bees. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2014; 12 (4): 210 DOI: 10.1890/14.WB.006

Cite This Page:

Ecological Society of America. "Crocodile tears please thirsty butterflies and bees." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501075941.htm>.
Ecological Society of America. (2014, May 1). Crocodile tears please thirsty butterflies and bees. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501075941.htm
Ecological Society of America. "Crocodile tears please thirsty butterflies and bees." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501075941.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) — Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) — At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Newsy (July 30, 2014) — The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its 2014 list of single meals with whopping calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins