On Wednesday afternoon, I noticed the steadily increasing coverage of the story about sweat bees living in a Taiwanese woman’s eye. It seemed implausible – very few bees are small enough to get in your eye without knowing it, and they certainly wouldn’t survive very long.
But what first caught my attention was the poor communication around this story. The use of words like ‘nightmarish’ and ‘weird’ for a completely normal animal interaction. And the number of stories that were headlining their report with a picture of a totally unrelated bee (usually Apis mellifera), or even other insects. Toby Smith and I have previously looked at how misuse of pictures of Apis mellifera in media stories can affect accuracy of science communication.
So I started a Twitter thread to highlight all the taxonomy fails in these stories:
The story of sweat bees in the woman’s eye…I’m not convinced. But let’s see how many news stories have a #taxonomyfail picture!
‘Sweat bee’ is the common name for numerous bee species in the family Halictidae that will drink human sweat
— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) April 10, 2019
As I came across more and more stories in different media, with so many odd or misinformed statements, I was becoming less and less convinced. The pictures published as apparent evidence of the bees in the woman’s eye definitely weren’t halictids, as the news reports were claiming. Plenty of entomologists on Twitter were in agreement! Then, while searching through research papers of tear-drinking bees looking for information about what Taiwanese species might do this, I found a photo that looked very familiar…
Here’s an article in The Conversation I wrote with Toby Smith explaining the context:
(Thanks to Maddi DeGabriele for the offer to write the article!)
© Manu Saunders 2019