Butterflies And Bees Drink Crocodile Tears

To the delight of winged invertebrates, crocodiles cry when they eat

Photo: Carlos de la Rosa

Last December, when Costa Rican biologist Carlos de la Rosa spotted a butterfly and a bee simultaneously drinking from the tears of a caiman, he didn't quite know what to make of the scene. "It was one of those natural history moments that you long to see up close," he said, in a statement. "But then the question becomes, what's going on in here? Why are these insects tapping into this resource?"

Perplexed, he began looking into the subject and found that a number of these events had been recorded around the world, by professional scientists, tourists and photographers. De la Rosa himself had seen moths drink turtle tears in the Amazon, and others reported of butterflies and bees drinking tears from an assortment of other reptiles (and, in one case at least, a human). 

So what is going on?

De la Rosa figures that those cold-blooded tears must contain valuable mineral resources, such as salt. Butterflies, he points out, are known to drink from muddy, nutrient-rich puddles. 

Despite their reputation, crocodile tears are genuine: No one knows why, but alligators and caimans naturally tear up when enjoying a meal. As ScienceDaily reported several years back, it might have something to do with the hissing, potentially sinus-clogging noises they produce when chowing down. 

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