Bees Drink Human Sweat, Tears

May 3, 2012 3:23pm
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Bees and fruit flies feed on human tears. (Images Copyright 2009, Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society)

What’s tastier than meat and cheese? Sweat and tears, for bees anyway.

Though they’re not as popular as their honeybee cousins, sweat sucking and tear drinking bees are making a buzz in cities across the country.

“They use humans as a salt lick,” John Ascher, who oversees the a database of 700,000 species of bee at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told the Wall Street Journal.

Ascher discovered Lasioglossum gotham, New York City’s very own sweat bee, while walking through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

The tiny insects rarely sting and might even go unnoticed on a sweaty arm or leg. But researchers in Thailand went one step further, allowing bees to sip from their eyes.

“On landing, automatic blinking with the eye often prevented the bee from getting a firm hold, causing it to fall off the eyelashes,” the researchers wrote in a study titled, “Bees That Drink Human Tears.” “If so, the bee persistently tried again and again until it was successful, or finally gave up and flew off.”

When the odd bee did latch on, the researcher was often unaware. But when several bees set up shop, it was a different story.

“The experience was rather unpleasant, causing strong tear flow,” the authors wrote in the 2009 study published in the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. “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.”

Sweat suckers and tear drinkers favored bodily fluids over smoked fish, fresh meat, gruyere cheese and chocolaty Ovaltine, according to the study. The researchers suspect salt or other proteins and sweat and tears provide vital nutrients for the tiny workers — something to keep in mind on those hot summer days.

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