In the animal kingdom we sometimes come across strange phenomenon that are very often difficult to explain. Scientists make an effort to understand why animals exhibit strange behavior.
Recently, studies of butterflies crowding around yellow-spotted turtles in the Amazonian jungles have uncovered a bizarre trait of butterflies. Butterflies drink turtle tears.
Why do butterflies drink tears?
Butterflies like other living creatures require minerals and salts as part of their daily diet. It so happens that salt is relatively scarce in the Amazon rainforest. On the other hand tears secreted by turtles contain salt. You see, turtles are carnivorous (they eat meat) and meat contains a lot of salt. The excess salt removed from the turtles through tears, become an important source of nutrient for the butterflies. Butterflies suck up the tears by placing their proboscis on the tear and absorb the liquid like a sponge.
So how does this feeding by the butterflies affect the turtles? Well, scientists are not sure they have all the answers. They have however noticed that bees also drink turtle tears except that they annoy turtles with their buzzing. It is possible though that a large swarm of insects hovering around a turtle could leave them vulnerable to predators.
Minerals and Salt Licks
Salt serves many different purposes. Not only does it enhance the taste of our food, it also plays a very important role in the digestion of nuts and other complex foods in animals. Besides sodium chloride (table or common salt), other minerals such as potassium, iodine, phosphorous and zinc are very important to the development of bones and muscle not just in humans but in animals too.
Nature provides for animals in the wild. In places such as the Amazon forests in Peru, animals have been observed to visit areas known as clay or salt licks. These are locations where mineral deposits occur naturally. Animals and birds congregate at these licks to get their daily fix of minerals. They tend to visit these places in groups to stay safe from predators. A few chunks of clay add the necessary dash to their daily nutrient supply, much like salt and pepper for us!
Here is a photo of macaws at a clay lick, taken from my visit to the Tambopata Reserve in Peru’s Amazon forest
It is not just wild animals, but pets and farm animals too need minerals for their well-being. Ever noticed a farmer treating his horses to a block of salt? Next time you are at a farm or at a petting zoo remember to ask for some salt to feed the animals. They will love you all the more…