Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears to Survive

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles in Ecuador. Image: Ministerio de Turismo Ecuador via Wikimedia Commons

Nature continues to amaze us.

It appears to be straight out of a Disney movie: The Julia butterfly, a beautiful creature of the Amazon, was photographed drinking turtle tears. It sounds a bit fantastical, but this is evolution at its finest, folks.

These butterflies, along with many other species, seek out the tears of various animals (including crocodilians!) to ingest much-needed sodium that they can’t find elsewhere.

Thankfully, the turtles don’t seem to mind, and it doesn’t cause them any harm other than temporarily obstructing their view.

Image: Ministerio de Turismo Ecuador via Wikimedia Commons

Carlos de la Rosa, an aquatic ecologist in Costa Rica, explained that “sodium and some of those other micronutrients are hard to find in nature. Butterflies and bees consume nectar, and nectar does not have a lot of salt. But they still need salt for egg production and for their metabolism.”

That’s where the turtle tears come in. Insects can find sodium in other unusual places too, according to Geoff Gallice, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He noted that they will also drink animal urine, sweat, and muddy river banks. Delicious.

butterfly 2
Butterflies extracting nutrients from mud and decaying matter

The official scientific term for tear-drinking in this manner is “lachryphagy.” That may just be a final jeopardy question one day. You’re welcome.


They also drink crocodile tears.

Butterflies Eat Crocodile Tears