A Taiwanese woman went to the hospital for what she believed was an eye infection. Instead, doctors found four tiny bees beneath her eyelids.
According to The New York Times, the patient, identified only by her last name, He, felt a “sharp pain” in her left eye while taking part in the tradition of tomb-sweeping, an annual event to visit the tombs of ancestors to clean their graves and make ritual offerings. She reportedly plucked weeds from a gravestone and rinsed what she believed to be sand from her eyes with water. When she got home, she couldn’t stop crying.
Her eye had become totally swollen shut and the pain was unbearable. The infection seemed to be getting worse.
When He arrived at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan, doctors didn’t find a bacterial infection. Instead, while examining He’s eyes through a microscope, the hospital’s head of ophthalmology reportedly found four bees feeding on her tear ducts.
“Under the microscope, I slowly pulled them out, one after another,” Dr. Hung Chi-ting, the head ophthalmologist at Fooyin University, said at a news conference broadcast by local media last week, according to the Times.
The bees extracted from He’s eyes are known as “sweat bees” and they’re part of the halictid family. They’re about a quarter of an inch in length and have a dark, metallic hue. They subsist primarily on pollen and nectar and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “have never met a flower they did not like, and they rarely find one whose pollen or nectar is unyielding.”
They also need salt to supplement their diet, so they feed on sweat and tears.
“To my knowledge, this is the first case of a bee or a wasp getting caught in a part of a person’s anatomy, as far as I know,” Matan Shelomi, an associate professor of entomology at National Taiwan University, told The Washington Post. “I’m sure the sweat bees got by the eye and got squished between the eye and eyelid. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“They don’t seem to be bothered by people, so they will go to any source of salt,” Shelomi said. “I think they’re kind of dumb if they come to humans for their salt. They haven’t figured out what we are.”
The woman was reportedly discharged and is expected to make a full recovery. The bees extracted from her eyes are still alive and will now be studied.