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7 Disgusting Things Butterflies Eat

"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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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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