The Curse of the Zombie Bees
We often blog about challenges that honeybees face, but we have not discussed this one much before.
Zombie bees. They are well-documented on the West Coast of the USA, but a few zombie bees have recently been discovered in Eastern US states.
These are not undead bees like you might see in the movies. These are honeybees that turn into zombies when they are attacked and infected by a parasitic phorid fly (apocephalus borealis), also known as the zombie fly, that lays eggs in them.
This 1:34-minutes video by Associated Press shows more about zombie bees:
The phorid fly is native to most of the USA and up to recently was known to infect bumblebees. Now they have expanded their host range and the honeybee is a target. The fly lays eggs in the bee’s abdomen. As the fly larvae grows in the bee’s body, the bee becomes erratic and staggers and lurches around. The fly larva grows, moving up through the inside of the bee to exit between the thorax and the head.
In un-bee-like behavior, infected bees leave the hive in the middle of the night and buzz around porch or streetlights, even lingering around them throughout the day. Another way you can tell if a bee has turned into a zombie is if it gets on the ground, crawls in circles, gets disoriented or is dead.
John Hafernik of San Francisco State University documented the first zombie bee case in 2008. He says that when bees fly out of their hive, it is like the flight of the living dead, because they don’t have long to live. They have maggots inside them, that are slowly eating away at the life of the bee.
This 1:38-minute video by Science Insider gives more science behind this bee scourge:
Hafernik set up watchers in other places, and soon a case was also found by Joe Naughton, a beekeeper in New York. He found zombie bees at his porch light. Sampling is going on in many parts of the USA to test for zombie bees. Meanwhile, a study tested hives throughout the San Francisco Bay area and 77% of hives were found to be infected.
In some cases, fly larvae have been identified in up to 18% of the forager bees in some hives. As of 2015, zombees had been found in 7 states: Washington, Oregon, California, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont.
One way you can attract them is with a light trap but be cautious because even if they are weak or dying, these worker bees can still sting.
Honeybee night flights can bother neighbors, but beekeeper Robert Mackimmie wonders how much more honeybees can take of the hazards that challenge them in all aspects of their lives. He reminds us that bees are having a tough time surviving, and there has been a 40% colony loss nationwide.
In 2015, when the top video was made, nobody had any idea how many bees were affected by this zombie plague, or if it had anything to do with colony collapse disorder (CCD). One thing is certain, it is another stressor on honey bee populations.
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