When a young Taiwanese woman went to a hospital complaining of a swollen eye, 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.

sweat beesDoctors at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan described the incident as a “world first”, having successfully managed to extract all four bees alive from the patient’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.”

According to CTS News, the patient 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, the patient suspected an infection, but when the doctor had a look, he saw the tiny legs of the bees wriggling in her ducts, where they were feeding off the moisture and salt of her tears. Both the patient’s eyesight, and the lives of the bees, were saved by the fact she had not rubbed her eyes.

The small bees, known as Halictidae or “sweat bees”, are attracted to human perspiration and are found all over the world. They are not usually aggressive and sting only if touched. Sweat bees commonly nest in the mountains and near graves.