Night of the Living Honeybees?

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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


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.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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