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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 sodium.

But sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouth parts 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 anesthetic 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 tears.

Journal reference: Biology Letters (DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0581)

1 year ago – 2sdee off, bro issues (plus, i made him cry), family gt, sandy gets me a flickr pro acct, torturing GP

2 years ago – weird dream, more photo hosting quota up to 100 meg! (now 10 gig!), 1 Corinthians 13:13, windy, random lj wandering, ljviz, mexican indoor nudity ban, jack burton, psa, workday shift.

3 years ago – Surprise book giftie from Lisa, Talked to Katt very briefly on the phone, Gecko tape, how to cook a tarantula, wacky old comics

4 years ago – created a nation states community, rain, live_jounalia issues, v2 of cej-clix, quiet american

5 years ago – Newt vet, cultural comparisons, blogger hacked, guide to toddlers

6 years ago – Nukes (now at 7 minutes until midnight)


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