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What Butterflies Drink Besides Nectar May Surprise You

Butterflies Drink Strange Things.

You may have noticed after watering your garden or while hiking near a stream, that butterflies will cluster in small puddles to drink and to collect minerals from the mud.  Male butterflies, in particular, need the salts and minerals from the mud in order to produce healthy sperm.  The male also passes these salts to the female during mating, which helps to increase the viability of the fertilized butterfly eggs.

Butterflies Drinking Turtle Tears

Quite incredibly, the butterflies and bees in the western Amazon rain forest will also seek out yellow-spotted river turtles and side-necked turtles in order to obtain minerals from their tears.


This is because the Amazon is over 1000 miles from the sea, so salts and minerals, particularly sodium, are in short supply, causing the insects to resort to finding sodium wherever they can.  The turtles themselves are carnivorous, so they are able to obtain minerals from the meat that they eat.


Bees Drinking Turtle Tears


Bees and Butterflies Drinking Crocodile Tears

Similarly, the Julia butterfly and the Centris bee drink the tears of spectacled caimans in order to obtain needed minerals.  This video was filmed by ecologist Carlos de la Rosa, Director of the La Selva Biological Research Station, in December 2013 on the Puerto Viejo River in Costa Rica.

While the advantage to the butterfly is obvious, it isn’t understood why the turtles and crocodiles tolerate the invasive behavior near their eyes.  It could be that their wings provide shading, or that drinking the tears keeps the animals’ eyes healthy.  Perhaps allowing the insects to drink excess tears prevents the animals’ tear ducts from clogging and becoming infected.

Butterflies Drinking Lizard Blood

This is a bit more gruesome, but mother nature is mother nature.  Another excellent source of liquid and much needed minerals is blood.  In this video, an opportunistic butterfly drinks the blood of a dead monitor lizard.


How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

In North America, spring, summer and fall are all butterfly season.  As you start planning your spring garden, make room for butterfly-friendly plants such as milkweed, parsley, fennel, passion flowers, asters and hollyhocks to feed the butterfly’s caterpillar stage.   Good nectar producing plants for the adult butterfly include zinnias, coneflowers, butterfly bush and red clover.

Monarch butterflies in particular are considered a species of special concern, since they have experienced a 75% population decline due to deforestation in their overwintering sites in Mexico and due to herbicide use and the loss of milkweed habitat in North America.  Milkweed is the only plant that the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on.  We can all help with their recovery by planting milkweed in our gardens and by not using herbicides and pesticides which are toxic to the butterflies.

Also, while you don’t need to stock your garden with turtles and crocodiles, do consider having a small patch of mud (a puddling area) or salty water in a shallow dish where butterflies can collect salts and minerals since these are not readily obtained from nectar.


Cover photo:  Jeff Cremer

Tambopata Research Center (

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