Are you Ready for the ZomBee Apocalypse?

July 24, 2012

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.

 

 

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 are 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 Brown

A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Kindergartner Finds Greater Yellow Underwing Moth on North Campus

May 25, 2012

This past weekend the Museum hosted the 26th annual Bug Fair. Over the course of 72 hours, more than 10,000 people visited us. These lucky visitors got to see, do, and taste many things. At Curator of Entomology Brian Brown's table, visitors were able to see the world's smallest fly from Thailand (oh and it just happens to be a brand new species in the genus Euryplatea). On our insect stage, they could meet Western Exterminator's bed bug sniffing dogs. If people were hungry, they could head outside and taste some insectuous delights including Orthopteran Orzo, a la Bug Chef David George Gordon, or wax worm salad prepared by entomophagy expert Dave Gracer. If they were interested in hunting bugs rather than eating them, we also held bug hunts out in the Erica J. Glazer Family Home Garden.

Everyone was bug huntingWith over 300 people participating in the hunts on both Saturday and Sunday, you won't be surprised that we found a lot of insect diversity. There were many European honeybees, ladybugs, flower flies, and Argentine ants. There were also some insects that I'd never seen before, including an impressive underwing moth that was collected by Kindergartner! It just goes to show that Citizen Scientists are just as likely to make cool and scientifically interesting discoveries as our Museum scientists are. The moth is now our latest addition to the North Campus species list.

Chris Weng, age 6 One of our newest Citizen Science converts

Check out those underwings!The moth Chris found is a Greater Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba. Although you would expect the hind wings of this moth to be yellow, they in fact range in color from yellow to orange depending on the individual. This moth is native to Europe and was accidentally introduced into Nova Scotia in 1979 (the year I was born). Over the last 33 years the moth has spread throughout much of North America and can now be found here on the West Coast in many areas including Alaska, California, and British Columbia. This spread is not looked upon kindly by many gardeners and farmers, as the caterpillar is a pest. They feed extensively on a variety of herbaceous plants including grapes, strawberry, tomato, potato, carrot, cabbage, beet, lettuce, and many grasses. Over the last week, I've found many more of these moths around the North Campus. One of our Gallery Interpreters, Vanessa Vobis, also found one in her garden at home. Are they in your yard too?


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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First Baby Oaks Sprout Up in the North Campus

February 2, 2012

The North Campus is the proud parent of some baby oak trees!

Baby coast live oak sheltered by wallCarol Bornstein, our new Director of the North Campus Gardens, discovered a couple of oak saplings on one of her recent outdoor forays. The babies are coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia, of which we recently planted several trees. We've also planted another species of oak, the Engelmann oak, Quercus engelmanni (we planted only three of this species). Both species reside in the section of the garden called the urban wilderness which is composed of several kinds of California native trees and shrubs.

This might be the mother oak!Oak trees provide amazing habitat value, and this is the main reason we planted them. By putting in such a  sizable stand of oaks we're hoping our created wilderness will provide habitat for a whole slough of organisms rarely, if ever, seen before in Exposition Park. In just one oak tree it would be easy to find hundreds of species of associated plants and animals and thousands of individuals (think how many birds, ants, or squirrels you find in an oak tree). One species that has already shown up with our oaks, is a tiny insect called a whitefly.

Crown whitefly nymphs on oak leaf(each nymph is only 1 millimeter long)It was once again thanks to Carol, who was out inspecting our lovely oaks, that we discovered these small insects. At first we thought they might be a scale insect, but Brian Brown, the Museum's Curator of Entomology, identified them as crown whiteflies, Aleuroplatus coronata. As adults these small white homopterous insects (group of insects consisting of aphids, cicadas, scales, etc) fly around to find a suitable location to lay their eggs. For the crown whiteflies their plant of choice is oak. What you see in the image above are the nymphs (immature forms) of the whitefly, they have no wings but are covered with white waxy secretions that make them look like little crowns. The nymphs feed on the leaf's juices by piercing and inserting their mouthparts into the leaf. They can cause damage to the plant's health if their numbers are high enough, and they can also transmit disease organisms from one tree to another (not unlike mosquitos transmit malaria).Go check out your local oaks and see what animals live on them!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Niña de la Tierra: Children of the Earth

November 9, 2011

No it's not the title of a horror film, Children of the Earth is actually one of the many common names for Stenopelmatus fuscus. Other names lovingly given to this insect are Jerusalem Cricket, Potato Bug, Skull Insect, and my personal favorite, Devil's Baby! Earlier this week Sam Easterson found one in his front yard and captured this picture and footage.

Are you Looking at Me?These crickets are very common in Los Angeles. Consequently, my colleague Brian Brown, the Museum's Curator of Entomology, and I get calls about them all the time. I most often get calls after heavy rains, when these crickets come up from the depths of their soily abodes. They are stellar diggers (Check out their fossorial front legs, modified for digging) and live most of the summer months deep underground to escape the heat. Aside from their enlarged digging legs, their most obvious feature is their highly-domed head, which gives them an alien-like look. To continue the alien theme, these large heads contains multiple "brains!" To be scientifically correct they are actually cerebral ganglia, or masses of nerve tissue, which control the action of the chewing mouthparts, eyes, and antennae. Maybe I should propose a new name for this cricket, Alien's Devil Child?


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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North Campus Insect Survey

April 22, 2011

Survey Fun

 

 

As mentioned in an earlier post New Fly for North Campus, we've been trapping insects on the North Campus for a while now. This week however, is a milestone for NHMLA as we held our first quarterly insect survey. Our aim was to go after the insects that our Malaise trap wasn't sampling, like large flying insects such as crane flies and bumble bees and ground dwelling insects like earwigs and beetles.  Since this was our first time and the site is still an active construction zone, we limited participation to NHMLA staff and partners. As the specimens get prepared and sorted, I'll keep you all up to date on the species we identify.

 



Brent "the bug guy" Karner demonstrates proper use of a

beating sheet to our USC partners.

 



Brian Brown showing off his aspirator (aka pooter) skills.

Look closely, I swear there's an insect there!

 



A common insect, but nonetheless an impressive catch.

Female carpenter bee in the genus Xylocopa

 

Special thanks to Cordell Corporation for allowing us to access the site.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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New Fly for North Campus

April 5, 2011

Insect Trapping To better understand the insect diversity of the North Campus, we've started surveying the insect fauna on the construction site. A few months ago, Dr. Brian Brown, the Museum's Curator of Entomology, set up a Malaise trap. This type of trap is commonly used by entomologists to capture small flying insects, and so far we've collected hundreds! One of the coolest (at least in Brian's opinion, and now mine too) is the Boatman Fly.  

Dr. Brian Brown setting up a Malaise trap in his backyard (yes Entomologists take their work home with them too!)The Boatman Fly, Pogonortalis doclea, is a small (1/4 inch) fly originally from Australia. It was first recorded in California in 1963, and to date has not been recorded in any other state.  These flies are quite striking in appearance with their brightly colored eyes and highly patterned wings. Males of the species are often seen walking over leaves waving their wings in display, which look very much like a person rowing a boat, hence the name.

Boatman Fly, Pogonortalis doclea


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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