Blog

Isa’s nature journal and musings.

Puddling Pals

Betancourt Borneo Puddling single

We all know that butterflies and moths (Order: Lepidoptera) visit flowers for food. However, did you know that there are minerals that butterflies and moths can only obtain from sources such as animal sweat, tears, fecal matter, and mud puddles? This behavior is called puddling and it is not uncommon to find many butterflies puddling together.

Here are photos from my first encounter with puddling butterflies! The main species that was puddling, the Common Blue Bottle (Graphium sarpedon) is not at all shy. I lucked out. I was able to get up close with my camera without scaring them away. Additionally, clouds softened the sunlight. These were ideal insect photoshoot conditions. 

The butterflies filter large quantities of liquid through their bodies as they puddle. Every several minutes they unload the water waste with a sudden squirt out the rear to make space to draw up more liquid to keep the mining process going (See photo below). The water is recycled. It goes back into the substrate and picks up more minerals. Whooosh! It goes back up through the proboscis and into the butterfly. The nutrients are filtered out of the water and absorbed by the butterfly.

Once a puddling area dries up the party is over. Without moisture, the butterflies can no longer access the nutrients with their proboscis. Imagine trying to eat a chocolate bar with a straw. Liquify it. Now drinking it up with a straw is no problem. This is why the water recycling optimizes nutrient acquisition. It lengthens the time that the resource is available to the butterflies. Bon appetite, butterflies!

Puddling Pals
Before and...

Before and...

... a moment later. The butterfly squirts out water to make room for the intake of more.

... a moment later. The butterfly squirts out water to make room for the intake of more.

Overhead View Puddling
 

A Truely Rare Encounter

I was walking down a transect while searching for orangutans in the swampy peat forests of Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, when I spotted this camouflaged insect on the bark of a tree. It was slightly lower than eye height. At first sight, I thought it was maybe an egg mass or pupa glued onto the tree.
Then, I noticed the eyes! 

That was back in April 2015. Only just recently did I begin to explore what species this peculiar creature might be. I posted the photos of it on social media for the #ChallengeOnNaturePhotography. Perhaps my peers and colleagues would be able to assist with this bornean mystery.

 A ventral photograph revealed a proboscis which marked it clearly as a member of the True Bug order, Hemiptera. Narrowing an insect down to a likely family is usually pretty easy for someone with entomological background. 
Not in this case....
My colleague who has a special interest in Hemiptera was just as stumped as me about what family this bug might belong to.

A couple friends who saw the #ChallengeOnNaturePhotography post on social media suggested it could be in the family Phloeidae. Phloeidae has an armored look as well but they are known to only exist in South America (True Bugs of the World (Hemiptera: Heteroptera) . To find them in on the other side of the world?! That would be a huge deal.

Ventral view of Serbana sp. 

This insect was  first described in 1906  by the entomologist,  William Lucas Distant  . 


This insect was first described in 1906 by the entomologist, William Lucas Distant . 

I thought back to an Insect Phylogeny class I had taken at Cornell and remembered a guest lecture by Hemiptera Expert Dr. Toby Schuh from AMNH. I was curious to hear his thoughts. Were we overlooking what this insect could be? Was it a unique new species?!
I shot Dr. Schuh an email. 
He responded suggesting that the bug is Serbana, a presumed sister group of Phloeidae. There are an extremely low number of museum specimens of Serbana in the world! He, a top expert, has yet to see a physical specimen.
This insect is indeed very rare.


After some scrounging around the internet and literature, and with the help of fellow Cornellian, Eric Robert Lucien Gordon, we are able to suspect that what we have here is Serbana borneensis.
 

The diagrams from the publication appear to match the images of the insect I photographed in Borneo!

I plan to reach out to the museums in Europe and perhaps to the curators of the LIPI entomology collection (Bogor, West Java, Indonesia) to see if they have specimens of this species. If so, I'll ask that they send photographs so I can compare their specimens with my find.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The discovery of this little known bug in Central Kalimantan is an example of one of the many reasons I love taking pictures of bugs! While it would have been ideal to create a physical specimen collection of insects from those forests in Borneo, it was not possible to do so for a number of reasons. I am so thankful to have had my camera to create a digital collection of insects of the Mawas Reserve in Borneo Indonesia and I look forward to continuing to identify those insects to my best ability.

I hope to one day return to do more entomological work there!