A woman in Taiwan who checked into a hospital complaining of intense eye pain was found to have four live bees inside her eye, feeding off the salt and water in her tears.
CTS News reported on April 3 that a woman identified only by her surname—He—was treated at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan.
An eye doctor who examined He discovered there were four small sweat bees wriggling around on the inside of her eyelid.
The hospital’s head of ophthalmology, Dr. Hong Chi Ting, told the BBC he was “shocked” to find four live insects in the patient’s eye socket.
“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,” Hong said, according to Business Insider Singapore.
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The doctor told a news conference that the bees had been feeding off the woman’s tears.
Hong was cited by the BBC as saying the bees were about 4 mm (5/32 inch) in size.
Weeding a Grave
The woman had reportedly been out pulling out weeds from around the graves of relatives as part of the Chinese Qing Ming tomb-cleaning festival.
“I was visiting and tidying a relative’s grave with my family,” He told reporters, The Washington Post reported. “I was squatting down and pulling out weeds.”
She told reporters a gust of wind blew something into her eyes, and she thought it was dirt. She flushed the area with water, she said, and out of fear she might damage her contact lenses, the woman avoided rubbing her eyes.
Hong told the BBC she was lucky not to have rubbed her eyes because that may have caused the bees to release venom, leading to blindness.
“She was wearing contact lenses so she didn’t dare to rub her eyes in case she broke the lens. If she did she could have induced the bees to produce venom… she could have gone blind,” Hong said, according to the report.
Hours after the insects flew into He’s eyes, discomfort turned to pain. The following day it became so intense, she sought medical attention.
“She couldn’t completely close her eyes. I looked into the gap with a microscope and saw something black that looked like an insect leg,” Hong told the BBC.
“I grabbed the leg and very slowly took one out, then I saw another one, and another and another. They were still intact and all alive.”
Close-up images of the bees embedded in the woman’s eyes were shown on Taiwanese TV.
First Case Ever?
Hong told the BBC he believes this is the first case in Taiwan of sweat bees infesting someone’s eye socket.
Matan Shelomi, an associate professor of entomology at National Taiwan University, told The Washington Post that this may, in fact, be the first time in recorded history such an incident has ever occurred.
“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,” he said, The Post reported. “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.”
He was discharged and is expected to make a full recovery, KRON-TV reported.
‘Tiny Spark’ versus ‘Walking Over Flaming Charcoal’
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, sweat bees are not aggressive.
“To humans, one of the most noticeable traits of sweat bees is their attraction to perspiration,” the department states, adding that sweat “offers them precious moisture and salt.”
According to the Schmidt Pain Index, which tries to give an indication of “which sting hurts the worst,” a sweat bee comes in at a 1.0 on a 4-point scale: “Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.”
A bullet ant, ranked at the highest pain threshold of 4.0+, is said to cause “pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.”
A yellowjacket wasp, which alongside bees and hornets cause the most deaths of any animals in the U.S. each year, according to CDC data, has a sting right around the middle point of the pain scale.
“Hot and smoky, almost irreverent,” the pain index states. “Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”