July 24, 2012

Are you Ready for the ZomBee Apocalypse?

Today, we launched our latest Citizen Science project, ZomBee Watch, in partnership with San Francisco State University. Yes, that's right folks, we want you to become a real life ZomBee Hunter! To inspire you to do so, sit back and relax while I tell you this epic story of zombification!

Dead honey bee parasitized by the Zombie Fly.
Can you see the white maggot emerging from the neck region?
In the darkness of night zombified honey bees (ZomBees) abandon their hives and embark upon a flight of the living dead! These honey bees, Apis mellifera, have been infected by the Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, brethren of the nefarious ant-decapitating flies. 
Female Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, 2.5 mm long
Photo courtesy of Brian Brown
It all starts when a Zombie Fly finds her way into a bee hive and lays her eggs inside of an unsuspecting bee. After a few days, the eggs hatch and the maggots slowly eat the bee from the inside out. Sensing something is amiss (really, really amiss), the ZomBee abandons its hive under the cover of darkness and "drunkenly" flies towards the light (no pun intended). The zombified bee, like real-life zombies, show symptoms of disorientation (not surprising, since the maggots may well have eaten one, if not all of their brains), such as walking in circles, the inability to stand on their legs, and a fair bit of staggering about. Check out this video:
Zombie-like staggering behavior of honey bees
After the sun rises, the stranded ZomBee slowly dies. Left undisturbed, about seven days later up to 13 maggots emerge, alien-like, from the ZomBee and pupate away from the now lifeless body.
ZomBeee with pupa
Photo thanks to John Hafernik, the scientist who discovered
that Zombie Flies are parasitzing honey bees

Zombie Fly parasitism is not new to science. We've known for a long time that these flies parasitize some of our native bumble bees and paper wasps. But now that Zombie Flies have been discovered "infecting" honey bees, scientists and beekeepers alike concerned. How will this affect the honey bee? They have already been contending with such difficulties as Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa mites, and a plethora of other diseases and infections. Right now, we are waiting to see what the research shows us. How will this new threat affect the beekeepers’ livelihoods and our bee-dependent dinner plates?Now that you’ve heard my gruesome tale, I am sure you are compelled, by all that is right and good, to become a ZomBee Hunter. For instructions on how to participate, check out our ZomBee Watch website.

Check out the discovery paper co-authored by Museum Curator of Entomology, Brian BrownA New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis 



Posted by:Lila Higgins

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