People watching the Euro 2016 final last night were excited by the moth that landed on the face of the Portuguese captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. Social media channels, especially Twitter, are making the most out of mocking the incident. Several accounts with the name “Ronaldo Moth” have also been created.
Was the fragile winged creature really so touched by the tears of the injured footballer and his suffering that it came to offer the star friendship and consolation?
Unlikely, but it is quite possible that the moth was looking to feed on salty tears and sweat.
“Some species of butterflies really feed on tears”, confirms UT Research Fellow in Entomology Juhan Javoiš. He adds that tears are probably complementary and not basic food for these species.
“These species are interested in sodium, which is regular salt, but probably also the proteins that tears contain”, said the research fellow. However, he is not sure whether the so-called Ronaldo moth seen in yesterday’s final is among the species specialised in tears. “I doubt it, although it can be seen in the video that it is especially interested in the eye”.
“The moths probably gathered to the stadium because of the bright lights, and they were definitely attracted by the smell of sweat, which should be plentiful in the football stadium. Upon closer look they also found some more nutritious, protein-rich food — tears”, Javoiš explains with a clever smile. “Entomologically it is definitely a very entertaining case”, he added.
A colleague of Javoiš, University of Tartu entomologist Erki Õunap, also believes that the moth was first and foremost attracted to the athlete by the smell of sweat.
“As the diameter of the moth’s proboscis (the elongated sucking mouthpart of many insects) is small, they are unable to consume solid food and need to get the necessary minerals in liquid form. It is easy to obtain minerals from the body of a sweating person because sweat is salty”, explained Õunap.
“Various moths have come to lick the sweat off my body during summer fieldwork, so this is nothing extraordinary. This time the moth just happened to be interested in a famous footballer, and the whole thing took place in front of cameras”.
Who is the Ronaldo moth?
The term “moth” used in English media is widely used to mark numerous species and does not say much about its classification. According to Erki Õunap, Ronaldo’s moth is the Silver Y (Autographa gamma), a moth widely spread all over Europe.
“From Estonia’s perspective, it is an interesting moth because our climate is too cold for it to survive the winter here”, said Õunap. “Nevertheless, we often see the Silver Y in our region in masses because a great number of them come every year with air masses from the southern regions. They can produce offspring here and in the second half of the summer you can often see young Silver Y who have hatched here”.
Katre Tatrik is the editor of the popular Estonian-language science portal ERR Novaator.