March 06, 2013

A Turtle Drowning In Butterfly Kisses

This is a colorful example of how odd behaviors can evolve in the face of a limiting resource. In the Amazon, salt is a much sought-after commodity as it is generally lacking in the environment.

Turtle tears? A prime source of salt, and many butterfly species have adapted by perching on their face and sipping from the source. Although this is generally a common sight along the river, this image taken by our photo tour guide Jeff Cremer is the most adorably smothered I have seen, yet.

The turtles are basking in the sun to collect heat and energy for the day, and the butterflies find them by flying along the river. The turtles are ectothermic, so require heat energy from the environment to warm up their bodies and get active for the day. Bees also feed on turtle eyes, which seem to really bother the turtles, but they don’t appear to mind having butterflies drink from them as much.

We also have the first ever video taken of bees feeding on the turtles, here:

While some people have said that the turtle gets an eye cleaning in exchange, I’m don’t think that is very likely. More likely is that this relationship is a form of commensalism, in which the butterfly benefits from the turtle, and the turtle isn’t really affected either way.

Butterflies in this area will do anything for salt- including drinking from your sweaty skin or backpack. I’d even bet that if you laid out on one of those logs with your skin covered and your eyes open, you may get lucky enough and eventually have a swarm of colorful butterflies imbibing on your tears, too.

If you want to join us and experience the incredible sights of the Amazon, check out our tours.

Follow Phil Torres on twitter.


  1. Hey, are you serious about that? Sounds like a fairy tale or a children's story. Anyway this post makes think and ask lots of questions. Why is it you can find salt there so easily? And butterflies in need of salt is somehting curious too --- what's the explanation for that? As fas as I know they need to feed on flowers and maybe small insects or other plants.

    And why don't they look for salt in lyzards or chamaleons and other animals as well?

    In the vidoe why do they take so long to notice there's another turtle nearby --- and only focus on one of them?

    Well thanks for the info anyway

    1. i can think of a lot of hypotheses to your questions

      1. Everything is a competition in the rain-forest/ salt doesn't rain from the sky nor do these animals dig mines, they live near no ocean so it makes sense why its so scarce.

      2. most creatures need salt, a good example of what can happen if you don't have salt can be seen in mice, if you put a few mice in a cage then never give them salt they will begin to each each other to obtain the salt there body craves. Why? you probably wouldn't have to look far into google about that.

      3. they very well may but not all animals produce tears or at least not enough to drink from a turtle however needs to lubricate his eye often as it has evolved to be used to being coated in water.

      4. The other turtle may not have a lot or was never provoked to produce enough to be noticeable in the first place.

  2. A correction .. why is it you can't find salt so easily there?

    1. because there isn't much salt there.

    2. It's the amazon, every resource is scarce because of competition.

    3. Great question. Rainfall in the Amazon comes from the Atlantic Ocean. As the rain clouds travel across South America, the concentration of salt in the rain drops exponentially so by the time it reaches our area of the Amazon there is very little salt left. Plants don't use salt, so herbivores like butterflies end up not getting enough salt in their diet from feeding on leaves as caterpillars and need odd behaviors like this to cope for it.

  3. Actually, most butterflies get their salt by basking in drinking it from muddy locations. There is apparetly enough salt in dirt for butterflies to get their dietatry samples.

  4. For those curious about why salt is rare in the amazon, there's a great explanation in this (incredible) Smarter Every Day video:


© 2013 Peru Nature Blog
powered by Blogger