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Rare video catches moth sipping tears from bird’s eye. Scientists think they know why

A researcher captured rare video of a moth in the Amazon drinking tears from a sleeping bird’s eye, which the insect likely does to get nutrients like sodium and protein, according to a new report in the journal Ecology.
A researcher captured rare video of a moth in the Amazon drinking tears from a sleeping bird’s eye, which the insect likely does to get nutrients like sodium and protein, according to a new report in the journal Ecology. Screenshot from Science Magazine video

This bird needs a “do not disturb” sign.

Ecologist Leandro Moraes stumbled upon a sleeping bird with a moth drinking from its eye during an expedition through the central Amazon in November 2017 — and less than an hour later, he saw another moth do the same thing. Recognizing it as a rare sight, Moraes captured the spectacle on video, Science Magazine reports.

Moraes published a report on the phenomenon this week in the journal Ecology.

In the 20-second video, posted by Science Magazine, the sleeping bird is perched on a branch as the moth balances on the bird’s back and pushes its proboscis into its host’s eye. The moth’s wings oscillate slightly and the bird’s eye flutters open occasionally, though the resting bird’s body doesn’t stir much.

The bird is a black-chinned antbird and the insect is an erebid moth, Science Magazine reports.

Moraes’ report in Ecology says that most moths drink other animals’ tears “as a supplementary method to obtain nutrients, mainly sodium and proteins.”

Moraes’ report describes moths feeding on birds’ tears as “a rarely documented event,” which has only previously been observed and recorded twice — once in Madagascar in 2007, and again in Colombia in 2015.

Researcher Roland Hilgartner said Madagascan moths observed in the forests of the island nation use their barbed, hooked proboscis — “shaped like an ancient harpoon” — to sip tears from Newtonia birds and magpie robins, New Scientist reports.

Moths and butterflies around the world have been observed drinking the tears of large mammals like deer, or lumbering reptiles like crocodiles, neither of which can easily rid themselves of tear-drinking pests, New Scientist reports.

Drinking from the eyes of fast-moving birds is a bit more daring — which may be why the noctural moths Moraes observed feed on tears by night, when the birds’ metabolism slows, Science Magazine reports.

Moraes captured the video during his work as an ecologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden dropped off monarch chrysalis. I set up a time lapse video of it.

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