By Katherine Harmon (Scientific American July 24, 2012)
Zombie bees are not science fiction. They are real—and real threat to already-threatened U.S. honeybee populations.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) in California and South Dakota have been observed acting zombielike, wandering away from their hives at night and crawling around blindly in circles.
These insects have been rendered insensate by a parasitizing fly that lays eggs in the bees’ bodies. After the bee dies a lonesome death, pupae crawl out and grow to adult flies that seek new bodies to infect.
Such a sight startled John Hafernik, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University, when he looked at dead honey bees he had collected on campus. He soon started noticing clumps of dead bees under light fixtures in the area. He and his colleagues found that this bizarre bee behavior was the result of the fly Apocephalus borealis (they described their findings in January in the journal PLoS ONE). After sampling hives around the Bay Area, they found that, disturbingly...(read more)
To learn more go to ZomBeeWatch.org, a citizen science project that allows people to help track suspicious bee behavior and collect specimens. Through the project, which launches in full today, they are hoping to find “if this parasitism is distributed widely across North America,” Hafernik said in a new statement.
To help out, you can sign up to collect sick-looking or dead bee specimens and observe them to see if parasite fly pupae emerge. Industrious citizen scientists can build light traps to attract any parasitized bees in their area (full instructions are on their site). And the researchers promise that even bees that do not turn out to be true “ZomBees” are important to report in an effort to better understand contributors to colony collapse.
“If we can enlist a dedicated group of citizen scientists to help us, together we can answer important questions and help honeybees at the same time," Hafernik said.
Not sure what a zombie bee looks like? Here’s a video clip of a sick bee: