Romancing the Lachryphage

One of the supreme pleasures of that giddy delirium called human consciousness is an unsuppressable proclivity for filtering each extant instant and event, all objects, and every possible thing through the highly sensitive prism of emotion. The result is, put simply, poetry. We look at things around us, purposeful things, functional things, simple, straight forward things, and create out of them, through pattern recognition, anthropomorphism, and analogy a baroque emotional landscape positively rife with the touching, the gut-wrenching, and the glorious. Though the universe does not know it or care, we look around and we shudder at the significance of it all.

What am I rambling on about? Well, how about, for example, lachryphagy?

Can there be a more poetically potent act than that of drinking, and literally drawing sustenance from, another creatures tears?! Drinking tears for christ sake! Really, in human terms, it does not get much more poetically evocative than that, unless of course there is an animal lurking out there in the underbrush who subsists exclusively on the torn-out hearts of pregnant war widows.

For the animals who engage in this behavior, mainly a few species of moth, nothing could be more straight forward. Tears are as good a source of water and salt as any other (not to mention those delicious trace-levels of protein! Yum.) and hell, if no one else is gonna make use of it… Mommy didn’t raise no dummy-larva!

Even so, as a human it would seem nearly impossibly to explain lachryphagy without at least tacitly acknowledging the crazy, unintentional drama the whole undertaking is fraught with from our emotional and symbol-ridden point of view.

Quote: “Some species of moth engage in an almost romantic kissing of the eyes. Mara elephantophila, for example, which drinks the tears of elephants, is among the smallest of such moths. A shy, delicate creature, its tiny size allows it to steal a tear without elephants seemingly noticing.

The highly specialized Lobocraspis griseifusa Does not wait for an animal’s eyes to moisten. When it has landed, it sweeps its proboscis across the eye of its unfortunate host, irritating the eyeball, encouraging it to produce tears. It can even insert its proboscis between the eyelids, ensuring it can feed even while its host is sleeping. Whereas a moth of the genus Poncetia goes to the opposite extreme. It’s proboscis is so short it must cling to the eyeball itself to drink. But it must be careful. If its weeping host blinks, the moth is often crushed to death.” -Matt Walker, from Fish That Fake Orgasms: And Other Zoological Curiosities.


I literally can’t read that without my brain just shivering in delight. 

“Delight?” you ask. Well, yeah, I mean, we’re talking about insects drinking animal tears. As with Love and War, all’s fair in Nature baby, that’s just plain good times. If, on the other hand, moths were dunking those proboscises (who knows where they’ve been!?) and greedily guzzling the wine of human sadness, well…

Quote: “I was observing zoophilous moths in a herd of zebu. One C. ludovicae took tears from a zebu at 1840 h. Shortly afterwards the specimen flew onto my wrist where it sucked perspiration for 10 minutes before it flew onto my naked leg and back onto the front of my head where it continued to take sweat. It flew off and back to my cheek, climbed towards my right eye. finally settling near its lower edge. The perception I now felt was unpleasant and was comparable the that of a particularly edgy grain of sand being rubbed between eye and lid. the source of th epain is revealed in a flash photograph (pictured above) I took 1.5 minutes after the moth settled: the right fore tarsus was hooked onto the delicate conjunctiva of the lid near the eyeball, while the the tear sucking proboscis applied to the eyeball caused less disturbance. Unfortunately the flash scared the moth away which did not return.” - Hans Biinziger, from the paper Remarkable New Cases of Moths Drinking Human Tears In Thailand. (pdf)


That moth got away and its tear-fattened progeny are almost surely licking a human eyeball somewhere in Thailand at this very moment! Not to mention these guys…

Yeesh. See, now my brain is shuddering in repulsion, and rather than the sensitive and knowing Emersonian verse which had been growing in the back of my mind, I find poorly written scripts for low-budget horror flicks scrolling across my mind’s eye… Hey! Stay away from my mind’s eye, you damn pesky tear-burglars.

Anyhow, thinking it over, I cant help but get to wondering. Were it not for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth scaring them away, would moths prefer the hormone and painkiller-rich vintage of “psychic tears” (i.e. the type created by stress, suffering, or pain induced weeping) over the run-of-the-mill “reflex’ brand? And for that matter would, say, a toddler’s skinned-knee tears be more or less delicious than a 17 year old’s “we’re both going off to different schools and will want to see other people” tears? Are the tears of a Cubs’ fan in September any good? And what about crocodile tears or the tears of a clown?

Your average elephant or water buffalo doesn’t care much about such things, they just make a loud noise and shake their head about to scare off the moths and then get back to their business, but as I said in the beginning, such is the joy of being a deliriously “aware” human. It is our purview, and ours alone, to get wrapped up in the poetry and metaphorical emotional payload inherent to the survival strategy of an insect, who given the chance, will fly directly into an open flame.

Afterword 1-

The image which began this post, of a deer’s eye surrounded by tear bandits, is a fabrication. I concocted it to resemble a very low resolution image I found showing a similar gathering around a water buffalo’s eye. As much as it pains me to admit it- the deer is stuffed, the eye is glass, and the moths are, well… I don’t know what they are.

How is this even remotely relevant to the discussion at hand you ask? Well, coincidentally (or not), in seeking to create the illustration I found that, for a layman at least, the act of searching out images of specific moths, armed with nothing but the maddeningly complex knot of Latin genus/subgenus/family/sub-family/tribe/ names also happens to induce lacrymation, rather quickly and angrily I might add, and I half expected my face to be swarmed with fluttery little wings terminating in thirsty barbed probosci.

Afterword 2-

In the year 2048, after the fall of western civilization, when an individual’s knowledge and skill-set no longer qualify he or she for well paying jobs but rather automatically initiate them into vicious, roving, cannibalistic street gangs, murderous and vengeful lepidopterologists (and Nabokov scholars) will appropriate the image of the lachryphage, potent and poetic as it is, and use it in the following manner-

And this tattoo will strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. 

Hope you enjoyed.

Related from New Scientist:
Moths with a taste for tears
Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds

Possibly related:
The Jimsonweed Junkies