Night of the Living Honeybees?

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/markop/491027707/sizes/m/in/photostream/">macropoulos</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


There are so many things in this world to be afraid of: hantavirus, brain-eating amoebas, the bubonic plague. Now you can add “zombie bees” to that list.

Beekeepers in Washington state have found bees whose bodies were taken over by apocephalus borealis, a type of parasitic fly that “causes the bees to lurch around erratically before dropping dead.” It’s really something straight out of a horror flick. While normal bees spent the night in their hives, infected bees are out on the prowl, exhibiting “zombie-like behavior” on “a flight of the living dead,” according to the website researchers have put together on the subject, ZomBee Watch. Here’s how the Seattle Times described what happens, per San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik, the guy who first discovered the infected bees:

The fly’s life cycle is gruesomely reminiscent of the movie “Alien” — though they don’t pose a risk to people. Adult females, smaller than a fruit fly, land on the backs of foraging honeybees and use their needle-sharp ovipositors to inject eggs into the bee’s abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots. “They basically eat the insides out of the bee,” Hafernik said.

After consuming their host, the maggots pupate, forming a hard outer shell that looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. When [Washington beekeeper Mark] Hohn looked in his Ziploc bag a week later, he saw several pupae — the smoking gun evidence that his bees were infected. He’s still waiting for the first adult flies to emerge from the shells, a process that takes three to four weeks.

The zombees were first documented in California in 2008. There are now confirmed instances of the afflicted bees in Washington, Oregon, and South Dakota, and sampling is taking place in five other states where cases are suspected. The project is a collaboration between San Francisco State University Department of Biology, the San Francisco State University Center for Computing for Life Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Scientists are trying to figure out if the parasitic flies may be one of the reasons for Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious condition causing massive die-offs in honeybee populations.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate