The Buzzing Dead

It might sound like science fiction… or at the very least a show on AMC.

The first case of “zombie bees” in honeybee populations was discovered in 2008, but now it seems the parasite is on the move. Mark Hohn keeps bees at his home in Kent, Washington. About two weeks ago, Hohn noticed some of his  bees were acting strangely – flying at night and moving erratically before dying prematurely. His bees were the first reported case of “zombie bees” in Washington state.

The culprit is Apocephalus borealis, a native fly that lands on the back of the bee and injects its eggs into the host’s abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots and eat the bee from the inside out. After the bee dies, a hard shell forms around the pupae, which hatch into flies three or four weeks later. Fairly morbid, but something native bumble bee populations have endured for years. The fact that the fly, known colloquially as the zombie fly, is attacking the imported European honeybee is a new development. And it could answer some questions beekeepers have had recently.

Several keepers have been reporting higher instances of the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where all adults in a hive suddenly die or disappear. With CCD, some adults abandon the hive the same way infected zombie bees leave the hive at night.

This isn’t just a problem for honeybees. The European honeybee was brought to America because it is such an effective pollinator. Many of our commercial crops depend on their busy pollen-gathering. After all, the birds might sing about love, but the bees actually make it happen.

Photo: tracie7779/Flickr

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