PHOTO: Turtle tears provide essential nutrients for butterflies

Butterflies drinking turtle tears. Credit:  Jeff Cremer/Solent News
Butterflies drinking turtle tears. Credit: Jeff Cremer/Solent News

A group of vividly colored butterflies smothers the heads of turtles as they try and drink their tears.

This event occurs because the orange Julia butterflies and yellow Sulphur butterflies require the nutritional benefits of salt. Photographer Jeff Cremer captured this sight in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.

“We’re used to one or two butterflies on a turtle but these ones – about 15 of them – seem to be absolutely smothered in butterflies.” Jeff Cremer, 35, travel photographer from Pueblo, Colorado.

Turtle eyes are the only salt source in forest
Much like humans a turtle’s sweat is replete with sodium, and some animals in the rainforest have to drink their tears as they are nowhere near a principal salt source like an ocean.

“The butterflies tend to attract each other, so if one butterfly is feeding, its bright colors invite other butterflies to that site to feed as well,” says biologist Phil Torres.

No harm caused by thirsty butterflies
Amazingly, the terrapins, a type of freshwater turtle, seem to be unperturbed by the butterflies’ intrusion. However, they are not as placid when bees also come to drink turtle tears for salt.

“When bees come by to drink from the turtles’ tears, they appear to get agitated and will dodge their head around and try and swat the bee away,” Torres says.



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