What Animal Drinks its Own Pee?

07/19/2012

The following post was written by biologist Phil Torres and originally appeared on his awesome blog, TheRevScience.   Read the post, check out Phil's blog, and follow him on Twitter.

What drinks its own pee, loves to drink others’ pee, loves eating poop of all kinds, really enjoys eating dead, smelly, decaying animals, drinks our spit, gets drunk often, and will occasionally plug up a female’s genital opening to prevent other males from mating?

You guessed it, one of the world’s most (beautifully) disgusting creatures: The Butterfly.

 

Ecuador Butterfly

First I pee on your finger…

Ecuador butterfly

Then I drink my pee!

That’s right. It is a pretty gross behavior that I’ve read about and seen for just this butterfly (Lyropteryx apollonia). But it’s not a bad idea.

Pee
Butterflies, especially males, are always on the lookout for sources of scarce minerals and salts. In a jungle full of seemingly endless supplies of organic matter, the salts and minerals are what end up being a limiting resources for many. Most butterflies get these minerals by a behavior called ‘puddling,’ where they ingest liquid at the edges of stream beds or (surprise!) puddles. This allows them to bring water in, absorb the nutrients, and shoot it right out. A very quick process, the water gets shot out their rear-end in a matter of seconds. This butterfly, however, takes advantage of minerals that aren’t on a wet stream bed, giving it some sort of evolutionary advantage over others (perhaps less seen en-masse by predators?). By peeing on my friend’s finger the urine will absorb the salts on his hand. The butterfly can then re-drink his urine full of salts and do it all over again. At some point, the water’s evaporation will catch up and the butterfly will have to go recharge  on liquids; however this butterfly was seen doing this behavior for at least 15 minutes with no issues.

Butterflies do many a gross thing. To bait butterflies, I have used: rotten boa(smells awful), rotten fish (smells God-awful), urine, human/animal feces (you can guess how that smells) as well as rotten fruit. All of these things, though repulsive to us, are an incredible source of nutrients, sugars, minerals, and organic chemicals. Butterflies not only get energy from these sources but males also get the compounds necessary for them to create their pheromone, or chemical scent, to attract females (some pheromones smell like fruit loops or vanilla!).

Butterflies, Pieridae, Venezuela

'Puddling' behavior of butterflies

If you’re familiar with the sugar fermentation process you’ll know that any rotting fruit results in the make-you-clumsy chemical called ethanol, your every day alcohol you’d find in beer/wine/you name it. I have witnessed butterflies sip on a large amount of very fermented fruit and fly off quite lazily and awkwardly. Yes, butterflies even like to get drunk.

Finally, as for the male plugging up a female behavior, it isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of insects. They do it to prevent other males from mating, because if another male mates afterwards it will likely be the second male’s sperm that fertilizes her eggs. Other male insects have been known to impale females, have super spiky penises, or cheat females with a false gift and slip it in while she’s distracted. So ladies, next time you get upset with your man for not coming home when he was supposed to, just be thankful you’re not a female butterfly.

 

Reposted from TheRevScience blog with permission. Text and photos by of Phil Torres.


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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