Let’s do a little Wednesday experiment. Think of the worst possible headline. Slight caveat: Nothing political. We’re already spending our lives treading sludgewater underneath a never ending shit shower of news reporting the unforgivable twattery that goes on up on high. No, nothing political. Let’s narrow it down a bit, to body horror. So just the most horrifying, Cronenbergian thing you can imagine.
OK while you ponder that, picture the scene: You’re young, in fairly good health, when one day you feel a slight swelling in your eye. At first, you think nothing of it. Most likely just some irritation. It’ll go down by itself, you’ll carry on with your week.
But it doesn’t go down by itself.
It gets worse. The swelling grows, and gets more painful. And so, your pragmatism finally taking over your reluctance to go to the doctor for every minor ailment, you check yourself into your local health practitioner’s office. You expect routine treatment for an infection, nothing dramatic.
Here’s where that nightmare headline business comes into play, because this story just played out in Taiwan, and it ended as follows…
Let’s take it a word at a time.
Better or worse than your hypothetical nightmare headline?
According to The Guardian:
[A] young Taiwanese woman named He took herself to a hospital this week complaining of a swollen eye, [where] she expected to be treated for a simple infection.
Instead, the 29-year-old and her doctor were horrified to discover four bees living under her eyelids, feasting on her tears.
Doctors at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan described the incident as a “world first”, having successfully managed to extract all four sweat bees alive from He’s tear duct.
Speaking at a press conference, the hospital’s head of ophthalmology Dr Hung Chi-ting said: “I saw something that looked like insect legs, so I pulled them out under a microscope slowly, and one at a time without damaging their bodies.”
More from The Guardian:
[He], who was referred to by her surname only, had been tending to a family member’s grave and was pulling out weeds when she felt something go into her eye. Presuming it was soil, she washed it out with water but by night it had begun to swell up and she felt a sharp stinging pain under her eyelid.
At the hospital the next morning, Hung had suspected an infection, but when he looked at He’s eye through a microscope, he saw the tiny legs of the bees wriggling in her ducts, where they were feeding off the moisture and salt of her tears.
He’s eyesight, and the lives of the bees, were saved by the fact she had not rubbed her eyes.
Sweat bees (proper name Halictidae) is the name given to a large family of bees, species of which are found all over the world. Most sweat bees nest in the ground and are not typically aggressive. As their name—and this horrific story—suggests however, they are attracted to perspiration. Which, you know, fair enough. No kink-shaming here.
Now, because we must always think critically about everything we read, here’s a little dose of healthy scepticism (and media bee representation correction) courtesy of Dr Manu Saunders, community ecologist at the Uni of New England:
The story of sweat bees in the woman's eye…I'm not convinced. But let's see how many news stories have a #taxonomyfail picture!— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
'Sweat bee' is the common name for numerous bee species in the family Halictidae that will drink human sweat
This is a real sweat bee (Megalopta genalis), but it's native to central & south America, so probably unlikely to be found a Taiwanese woman's eye— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
Apis mellifera (not a sweat bee)https://t.co/ODuwBYg6mz— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
Apis mellifera (not a sweat bee)https://t.co/pgZz7pxI7i— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
A Vespula species (not a bee)https://t.co/6XxBUu4Evn— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
Halictus tripartitus (a sweat bee from North America)— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
This one apparently has footage of the surgical removal, hard to tell species but could be parasitoid wasps or tiny bees https://t.co/RNxHiajF0H— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
Another pic of the unidentified tiny wasps?/bees?— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
And a syrphid fly (not a bee) captioned as "a sweat bee on a flower" https://t.co/Tw8njTbwIY
Augochlora pura (a sweat bee from the United States)— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
(The pic on this story has been corrected, earlier this afternoon it had a pic that appeared to be Apis mellifera)https://t.co/u1RSomijL5
Note, plenty of bees (not just sweat bees), butterflies & other insects regularly feed on animal secretions, including tears, sweat and blood (tear-feeding is called lachryphagy) https://t.co/CpK5XrDQC0— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
(Source: The Guardian)
Image sources (in order of posting): YouTube, HBO