Bees That Drink Sweat From People's Skin and Tears From People's Eyes

By Sarah Zhang | May 1, 2012 12:12 pm

spacing is important
Drink up!

Have you ever thought about how nutritious your bodily fluids are? Full of goodies like salts and proteins…Wild bees know all about it, feeding human sweat and tears as a source of nutrition.

Urban sweat bees, for example, use humans like a salt lick. “These bees prefer sweaty people—over most animals—because the human diet usually is so salty that their perspiration is saturated with the essential nutrient,” according to a recent feature in the Wall Street Journal on sweat bees. A new species (Lasioglossum gotham) of these bees was recently identified from a specimen netted in the heart of Brooklyn. Although they are as a group fairly common, they’re tiny and they don’t sting, which is why you probably haven’t heard New Yorkers complaining about them. “[M]ost people never notice when the tiny bees alight on a bare arm or leg,” says the WSJ.

But what about a bee in your eye, you’d probably notice that right? Scientists have investigated different families of bees in Thailand that drink tears, both human and animal. Eyes wide open, the researchers used themselves as bee bait. (They also used meat, Ovaltine, cheese, and other foods but the bees preferred human tears.) These bees were persistent too:

On landing, automatic blinking with the eye often prevented the bee from getting a firm hold, causing it to fall off the eyelashes. If so, the bee persistently tried again and again until it was successful, or finally gave up and flew off. In a very few cases the approach was so gentle that the host (H.B.) did not realize he had a Lisotrigona attached to his lid, imbibing his tears. After landing and whilst sucking tears, H.B. often could barely feel the presence of a bee; indeed, checking by mirror was then required to make sure whether it was still there or had left.

However, when several bees were involved, the experience was rather unpleasant, causing strong tear flow. Once a bee had settled and more were approaching, these tended to settle near each other in a row. Closing the eye did not necessarily dislodge bees but some continued to suck at the slit. They were even able to find and settle at closed eyes.

The researchers eventually captured 262 of these tear-drinking bees using their own eyes as bait. They hypothesize that the bees use human tears as a primarily as a protein source, though the salt may be part of the appeal too. Next time you’re wiping off sweat or tears, remember there are starving bees somewhere who would love to drink some of that stuff.

Image courtesy of Hans Bänziger / Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Bee caring.

  • Lyle

    I will trade you 1lb of tears for 10lbs of honey Mr.Bee?

  • djanes1

    Last time I was at the farmers market, I actually bought some honey labeled “human sorrow”, sitting right between some that were labeled “clover” and “wildflower”.

  • EviLDeeDs

    Gross!

  • fashion Boots

    your kidding they actually have honey that is “human sorrow” no thank you LOL –my question would be how do they know is from humans? who is going to let bees get on them and drink their sweat and tears?

  • Tandem

    Makes my eyes water just reading this.

  • Anne

    From my understanding, the salt in sweat is part of how the sweat glands function. It’s not a disposal method for excess salt, the presence of salt is required in the sweat glands as part of the osmosis process itself. The attribution of salt in the sweat to an excess of it in the diet isn’t correct. It’s a bit of cultural bias on the Wall Street Journal writer’s part. It’s fashionable to vilify people’s eating habits but it’s sloppy to see that implied causality in the quote. It’s very irritating.

  • George

    “Prometheus, are you seeing this?”

  • Brian Too

    Sweat bees need a publicist. Terrible name, conjures up mental images of bees flying around in t-shirts, sweating under 3 pairs of armpits!

  • Caropa

    @Anne
    I just got the impression that because we have a lot of salt in our diets, there is just more in our bodies anyway. Therefore, there happens to be more salt in our sweat. Instead of there being a typical amount of salt in sweat, the sweat becomes more saturated.

    I hope this interpretation is less irritating. :)

  • Stuartg

    From memory, human tears are saltier than the tears of most mammals. I seem to recall that we have similar salt concentrations to the tears of aquatic mammals rather than terrestrial mammals.

    No idea about the concentration of salt in our sweat, though. Does anybody have knowledge of that?

  • Basil

    Who lets bees suck the sweat off of their eye rim?

  • JohnPA2006

    Remember , if bees die, we all die.
    Literally. So if a bee starts to drink your eyeball juice, let it !!
    Or else.

  • Simon

    Go back to where you came from bees.

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