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Tear-sucking moth in Madagascar feeds on bird eyes

Tear-sucker moth in Madagascar feeds on bird eyes

Tear-sucking moth in Madagascar feeds on bird eyes
Rhett A. Butler,
April 10, 2007

Biologists have documented the first known case of moths feeding on the tears of birds.

The research, published in the January 4 2007 issue of the journal Biology Letters, reports that the Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica moth “attacks sleeping birds in Madagascar” using its sharply barbed proboscis to penetrate the bird’s eye. While similar behavior has been reported in mammals, this is the first known case of tear-feeding on birds.

“Lepidoptera in several families are now known to be attracted to tears of a range of mammals and reptiles,” wrote the authors. “However, in contrast to mammals, birds have an upper and lower lid and a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes. To insert the proboscis into the bird’s eye it needs, therefore, a more sophisticated technique.”

The researchers suggest that tear-feeding could be an adaptation to reduce predation risk.

“Minimization of predation risk could be an additional explanation of why moths seek tear-feeding instead of simply visiting puddles or saltlicks as is common in other species. Predation could be high on mud puddles at night, where frogs are particularly abundant,” they continued. “Thus, sitting on a sleeping bird’s neck could be a relatively safe place to replenish mineral stocks. An interesting question now emerges as to why moths evolved tear-drinking on Malagasy birds
but not, to our knowledge, on mammals.”

CITATION: Roland Hilgartner, Mamisolo Raoilison, Willhelm Buttiker, David C. Lees, and Harald W. Krenn (2007) Malagasy birds as hosts for eye-frequenting moths. Biol. Lett. (2007) 3, 117—120 doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0581 Published online 4 January 2007

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