This is the stuff of nightmares.
But apparently not for this black-chinned antbird — which appears oblivious as it sleeps — to the moth perched on its head sipping tears from its eye.
Ecologist Leandro Moraes of the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil, was on a research expedition in central Amazonia in November, 2017 when he spotted the truly bizarre incident.
He even watched the bold nocturnal insect pluck open the bird’s eye for a bigger drink, in research to be published in Ecology and also reported in Science Magazine.
He speculates the moths ingest nutrients such as sodium and proteins from eye secretions of these birds.
Moraes first spotted the bird sitting on a branch with an erebid moth atop. That’s when he saw the moth poking its proboscis, or antenna, at one of the bird’s eyes. It seemed to be drinking. A little while later, he found a another moth drinking in the same fashion from the eye of another antbird.
He figures the metabolism of birds drop at night, allowing the moths to more easily feast.
#TheScientificNaturalist in @ESAEcology examines #vertebrate tear-feeding with the case of a #moth feeding on #antbird tears in central #Amazonia.#lachryphagy #interaction #birds #Brazil #erebidhttps://t.co/2H9MQ4AdJY pic.twitter.com/MmZOwh645h
— Ecology (@ESAEcology) September 18, 2018
“Strategy appears to be an unusual way to get nutrients,” Science magazine notes in its YouTube upload of the unbelievably creepy video.
It’s certainly weird, but it’s not unheard of in the animal kingdom.
“The vertebrate tear‐feeding (lachryphagy) on birds by moths is a rarely documented event, with only two known records from Madagascar (2007) and Colombia (2015),” the researchers note. “In these events, the moths insert their morphologically adapted proboscis on the target species’ ocular area to feed on their tears.”
Researchers have also previously found butterflies sipping crocodile tears.
And some bees slurp the tears of turtles.
Those animals, of course, don’t treat the insects as food and they aren’t exactly fast-moving creatures to begin with.
Still, all of it is very ewwwwwwww. Or terribly symbiotic.
— Ecology (@ESAEcology) September 24, 2018
Photos Ecology/Science Magazine