tear drinking moth

Michael E. Soukup mikayak3 at comcast.net
Mon Feb 5 17:40:01 EST 2007

    Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds

A species of moth drinks tears from the eyes of sleeping birds using a 
fearsome proboscis shaped like a harpoon, scientists have revealed. The 
new discovery - spied in Madagascar - is the first time moths have been 
seen feeding on the tears of birds.

Roland Hilgartner at the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, 
and Mamisolo Raoilison Hilgartner at the University of Antananarivo in 
Madagascar, witnessed the apparently unique sight in the island state's 
Kirindy forest.

Tear-feeding moths and butterflies are known to exist elsewhere in 
Africa, Asia and South America, but they mainly feed on large, placid 
animals, such as deer, antelope or crocodiles, which cannot readily 
brush them away. But there are no such large animals on Madagascar. The 
main mammals - lemurs and mongoose - have paws capable of shooing the 
moths. Birds can fly away.

But not when they are sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on 
the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of 
their proboscises inserted under the bird's eyelid, drinking avidly 
(scroll down for images). This was during the wet season, so the 
scientists think the insects wanted salt, as the local soils are low in 

But sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the 
soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the 
Madagascan moth has a proboscis with hooks and barbs "shaped like an 
ancient harpoon", Hilgartner says.

This can be inserted under the bird's eyelids, where the barbs anchor 
it, apparently without disturbing the bird. The team does not yet know 
whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They 
also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the 
Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition 
from the 


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