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7 Disgusting Things Butterflies Eat

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"Butterflies?” you’re thinking. “But they’re so … fluttery!” And you’re right. They are very fluttery. But their eating habits are revolting.

1. MUD

Let’s start at the beginning. In kindergarten, you were taught that butterflies are nectar feeders, sipping their sugary meals from flowers. This is still mostly true. But nectar is only one food group, and those other nutrients have to come from somewhere.

After a rainstorm, it’s not uncommon in certain areas to see a whole mess of butterflies sitting on the ground, sucking up mud. This practice is known as “mud-puddling” or simply “puddling,” and scientists believe certain butterfly species do it to round out their salt, nitrogen, protein, and amino acid intake.

Naturally, mud is just the beginning.

2. AND 3. SWEAT AND TEARS

If you’ve ever visited a butterfly house, you’ve likely seen some delighted small child with a butterfly on her arm. “He likes me!” she says. Delighted Small Child is mistaken. It’s not her friendship he’s after, but her precious, precious sweat. Or maybe he's interested in her tears: In 2014, one butterfly was observed drinking the tears of a sunning spectacled caiman, and photo evidence shows they drink the tears of tortoises, too.

Delighted Small Child might have been wrong about the butterfly liking her, but she probably was not mistaken about the butterfly’s sex, however: Most puddlers are males. Scientists believe that for most butterflies, the sodium goes straight to the sperm, which is then given as a “nuptial gift” to the female, giving the future offspring a better chance of surviving.

4. URINE

Butterflies love urine—“a fact taken advantage of by collectors,” writes the author of the Handbook for Butterfly Watchers. The insects love urine so much that they will even drink their own, which is pretty unique. Aside from a few eccentric humans and astronauts, butterflies are the only animals on Earth that recycle their wee.

5. AND 6. BLOOD AND POOP

Back to the butterfly house. If Delighted Small Child injures herself, her helpful butterfly buddy will be there to help clean up the blood. By drinking it.

From a butterfly’s perspective, larger animals like humans are probably just big restaurants. And what leftovers! Animal poop is full of all kinds of helpful nutrients, which butterflies will feast upon when given the chance.

7. DECAYING FLESH

You know what else is full of nutrients? Dead bodies!

Rotting animal flesh is a huge butterfly favorite [PDF]—so much so that researchers have begun baiting tropical butterfly traps with shrimp heads, chunks of dead snake, and prawn paste. Texture is key; since butterflies have no teeth, the carrion has to be so rotten that it’s actually liquefying. “Traps were baited and checked for cycles of five days, with extra bait added each day to ensure a range of decay,” wrote one scientist in her report [PDF]. Butterfly researchers really don’t get enough credit.

So yes, butterflies are disgusting, but at least they’re opportunists. They’re not out there inserting microscopic catheters or cutting throats with teeny butterfly switchblades. They don’t do the damage. They just enjoy the perks.  

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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