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!