People in the countryside reported seeing the zombie-bees buzzing around their porch lights before dropping down dead. Beekeepers explained that honeybees do not take night flies, and the phenomenon is worrisome.
The unruly insects were previously spotted on the West Coast, but a recent study shows that zombie bees are occurring on the East Coast as well. This problem may become another major risk for bee populations, which are already threatened by another mysterious phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.
John Hafernik, a biologist from the San Francisco State University who was also involved in the study, said that the findings do not suggest that the fly parasite may bring the doomsday upon remaining bee colonies. He added, however, that the phenomenon was ‘interesting’ because no other bug managed to influence the bees’ behavior and force them to leave their hive at night.
In 2012, Hafernik looked for volunteers to document cases of zombie bees in their areas. The project was called ZomBee Watch. Participants were asked to provide photos of the insects affected by the condition with their report. About 100 reports were confirmed.
The mysterious fly parasite is also a nuisance to yellow jackets since it uses them as hosts for their pupae. Hafernik first observed the phenomenon in 2008, when several bees were buzzing around a light outside his office before dying. The researcher took those bees in his office studied them and noticed that the parasite’s pupae were emerging from their dead bodies.
That was the first documented cases of honeybee zombification in San Francisco. The team explained that the parasitic Apocephalus borealis ambush honeybees while they are at work. They manage to pierce their guts and inject their eggs. As larvae develop, bees engage in a strange behavior.
The first case of zombie honeybees was observed two years ago by a Vermont beekeper. Other cases were confirmed in the Hudson Valley, New York, and in other Eastern states. But professional beekeepers say that the news that a strange fly parasite zombifies U.S. honeybees is no reason for panic, yet.
They said that facts need to be checked before rushing to any conclusions. They believe that the parasite may be a common pest to honeybees but researchers were able to detect it only recently. Nevertheless, Hafernik noted that honeybees buzzing at night never happened before.
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