Refreshing Drink

While roaming a national park in the Amazon, a team of ecologists and teenagers came across an arresting sight: a bee drinking a turtle’s tears.

The researchers describe this unusual scene in an article published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. “The Bee and the Turtle may sound like a fable by Jean de La Fontaine,” they write, but the observation is in fact “the first documentation of tear-feeding behavior by solitary bees on river turtles.”

The ecologists — one accompanied by his teenage children — flew from Quito, Ecuador to a town at the Amazon’s outskirts, then travelled by canoe into Yasuní National Park. The area is teeming with wildlife: A 2010 study concluded that Yasuní is one of the most species-rich spots on the planet. The park’s high biodiversity made it “the perfect place to stumble onto exciting interactions, behaviors, and ecological mysteries,” the authors write.

The teenagers noticed a bee drinking a yellow-spotted river turtle’s tears, and the researchers watched the odd behavior closely. Later, the team found out that some insects are already known to feed on the tears of animals such as deer and crocodiles. Tears contain the nutrient sodium, which isn’t as abundant on land as in the ocean.

The authors urge researchers to place more importance on observing nature directly. “While ecologists make ever-greater advances in modeling,” they note, “in-the-field observation of species continues to be neglected.” Roberta Kwok | 8 October 2012

Source: Dangles, O. and J. Casas. 2012. The bee and the turtle: a fable from Yasuní National Park. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10: 446-447.

Image © O. Dangles & F. Nowicki,