HONG KONG — First came their fuzzy feet.
From the left eye of his patient, a doctor would eventually remove four tiny bees.
“Under the microscope, I slowly pulled them out, one after another,” Dr. Hung Chi-ting, an ophthalmologist at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan, said at a news conference broadcast by local media last week.
The patient, identified by her last name, He, said that her ordeal began when she felt a sharp pain in her left eye while taking part in an annual tradition of tomb-sweeping. Plucking weeds from a gravestone, she rinsed what she thought was sand from her eyes with some clean water. By the time she returned home hours later, her eye was heavily swollen. Tears and other secretions streamed out.
She sought medical help. And under her left eyelid, Dr. Hung found what are colloquially known as sweat bees.
The bees, from the halictid family, subsist primarily on pollen and nectar but also need salt produced by human and animal glands, so they feed on sweat and tears. They rarely sting, doing so only when attacked.
Many sweat bees are about a quarter of an inch in length, about half the size of a yellowjacket.
The tiny pollinator can be found in gardens and grassy areas around the world, but it is very rare for them to fly into eyes. Fooyin University Hospital called the operation to remove the bees from Ms. He’s eye “the first in the world.”
When Dr. Hung extracted the bees, they were still alive. Had they ruptured inside Ms. He’s eye, she could have faced serious infection, even losing her vision, he said. The bees had remained intact partly because she had refrained from rubbing her eyes throughout the ordeal.