Parasitic bees kill dozens of endangered penguins by stinging them in the eyes

African penguin and Cape honey bees.
African penguin and Cape honey bees. Photo credit: Getty Images / Wikipedia/Discott

Dozens of endangered penguins have been killed in South Africa, stung in the eyes by swarm of parasitic bees. 

The dead penguins were found on Friday at a colony in Simonstown, on the country's southwestern coast. At first what killed the 63 African penguins wasn't clear - but post-mortems revealed they'd been stung in the eyes by Cape honey bees.

"This is a very rare occurrence," David Roberts, a vet with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, told AFP.

"We do not expect it to happen often, it's a fluke."

The deaths happened overnight between Thursday and Friday, South African National Parks said in a statement, calling it an "unusual event". 

"Many" dead bees were also found at the colony. 

No more dead penguins have been found at Simonstown since Friday, but one more victim was found at nearby Fish Hoek Beach. 

African penguins live on the southern coast of the continent - Namibia on the west, through South Africa and up into Mozambique. Also known as jackass penguins, they reportedly make a loud 'bray' sound like a donkey.

There are only a few tens of thousand left, and they're on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of endangered species.

Cape honey bees are native to the tip of the continent, but have recently been making inroads north - aggressively taking over colonies of other species.