ZomBEE Watch - Identifying ZomBEEs | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

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Identifying ZomBees

ZomBees are honey bees that have been parasitized by the zombie fly, Apocephalus borealis. Fly-parasitized honey bees are called "zombees" because they show the "zombie-like behavior" of leaving their hives at night in a disoriented state.  

 

How does a honey bee become a ZomBee?

First a zombie fly has to lay its eggs inside of a honey bee. The eggs then hatch into larvae (maggots) and the maggots feed within the bee while it is still alive! As you can imagine this causes the honey bee to behave rather strangely. Eventually, the zombie fly maggots kill the bee.

Scientists call this a parasitoidal relationship (unlike parasites, parasitoids always kill their host). The zombie fly (parasitoid) benefits at the expense of the bee’s (host) life. Once they have eaten the insides of a bee, the maggots exit the bee and form pupae away from the now dead bee. Up to 15 maggots may come out of a single honey bee! It takes two to four weeks for the fly pupae to hatch into adult flies. Then they begin the cycle again.

How can I tell the difference between a ZomBee and a normal honey bee?

Most honey bees you encounter will not be ZomBees. They will be buzzing around your garden exhibiting totally normal bee behavior. The easiest way to distinguish a regular honey bee from a ZomBee is to pay attention to their behavior. 

ZomBees are often observed:

  • Stranded under porch lights or street lights during the day
  • Flying around lights at night
  • Crawling, disoriented, or dead on sidewalks