Scientists Nationwide Are High on Alert for Parasite that Turns Honeybees into 'Zombies'

The Daily Meal    By Karen Lo   February 29, 2016

Researchers have observed bee colonies in several states falling victim to a parasite that makes drones behave like zombies 

Researchers have observed bee colonies in several states falling victim to a parasite that makes drones behave like zombies

In the moments before death, bees have displayed ‘zombielike’ behavior as the result of a parasite that liquefies its wing muscles. 

The decline of honeybees already threatens to wipe out major agricultural sectors around the world, but in recent years, scientists have discovered yet another threat to the critical pollinators: A deadly parasite. 

Honeybees across the country,which are essential to the production of more than 100 common cropsincluding tomatoes, avocados, cherries, and watermelon, as well as the production of beef and dairy, are falling victim to a parasitic infection that manages to use the bees as hosts. Infection by the parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, makes the bees behave in a “zombielike” manner in the moments before death. The larvae eventually liquefy the bee’s wing muscles and burst through its body. 

ZomBee Watch, an online database used by scientists to track the parasite’s reach across the country, has identified infected bees in New York, Vermont, California, Washington, and Oregon. The danger for bees is that, while an infestation alone may not destroy a colony, it could bring a vulnerable colony to collapse.

One factor that may put a colony at preliminary risk is the use of neonicotinoids, a common pesticide used in agriculture that is chemically similar to nicotine, and for which bees have been observed to develop dependence similar to a human’s cigarette habit. Studies have shown that bees prefer the neonicotinoid-laced sugar solutions over plain sugar solutions, even though they were more likely to die.

Tracking a Parasite that Turns Bees Into Zombies

The New York Times    By Nicholas St. Fleur    February 25, 2016

A female parasitic Apocephalus borealis fly about to infect a honey bee with its eggs. Credit Christopher Quock

Call it “The Buzzing Dead.” Infestations of what scientists have dubbed “zombie bees” have spread across both the West and East coasts in recent years.

The honeybee hordes, while not actually undead, are the unwilling hosts to a parasite infection that researchers think drives the drones to act erratically, or “zombielike,” in the moments before they die.

To better understand the parasitized swarms, John Hafernik, an entomologist at San Francisco State University has recruited people countrywide to join his hunt.

“The big question for us was, ‘Is this a San Francisco thing?’ Or something that is taking place all over the country that has not been noticed by biologists before,” he said.

Since he began the project four years ago, he has concluded the answer is the latter. Volunteers have helped identify infected honeybees in California, Washington and Oregon as well as Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. More than 800 bee observations have been uploaded to the ZomBee Watch online database.

Dr. Hafernik first discovered something eerie was happening to the bees on his campus in 2008 when he stumbled upon several of them staggering in circles along the sidewalk. For weeks he picked a few up and placed them in a glass vial with plans to feed them to his pet praying mantis.

One day he came across a vial he had forgotten on his desk for a couple of weeks. The bees inside were dead, but the vial was overwhelmed with small brown fly pupae. He came to the realization that the bees were parasitized.

 Fly maggots bursting from a parasitized honey bee. Credit John Hafernik

After further exploration across San Francisco Bay, he and his colleagues found several bees that were also behaving strangely. They would fly from their hives at night, which was something bees would normally never do, and then circle around a light fixture. After their nocturnal dance the bees would drop to the ground and start walking strangely. They were succumbing to their overlord, larvae of the fly Apocephalus borealis.

The life cycle of the parasitic fly is straight from a horror story. The female fly uses something called an ovipositor, which is like a hypodermic needle, to inject her eggs into the abdomen of the honeybee.

About a week later the larvae lurking within the abdomen wriggle into the bee’s thorax and start liquefying and devouring its wing muscles. Then, like in the movie “Alien,” they burst through the bee’s body, erupting from the soft space between its head and shoulder area.

“As far as we know this is a death sentence,” Dr. Hafernik said. “We don’t know any bees that have survived being parasitized by these maggots.”

As many as 80 percent of the hives that Dr. Hafernik examined in San Francisco Bay had been infected. Understanding more about how the infection spreads is important, he said, because although the infestations are not the main driver behind honeybee declines across the country, they could help collapse an already vulnerable colony.

Help Researchers Find Out Where Zombie Bees Are!!!

LACBA Newsie Bits  By Stacy McKenna   February 12, 2016

Help researchers find out where ZomBees are happening with the ZomBee Watch citizen science project. Brian Brown of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, one of the discoverers of the ZomBee and the parasitic fly that causes them, is one of the researchers and this project was named one of Discover magazine's Top Ten citizen science projects of the year. 

(If you prefer spiders, snails, lizards, squirrels, or other forms of local wildlife, NHM has a variety of citizen science projects you can help out with!)

Small Hive Beetle Excluder That's Easy to Make

THE HIVE BEETLE EXCLUDER. This idea using an inside flange and NEVERWET will keep the Small Hive Beetle out of your hive for good. Also a great tip on top vent protection from Hive Beetles at end of video.

Thanks to Carlen Jupe, California State Beekeepers Association, for passing along this link: "While Jeff does ask for donations at the end of the video, he first gives a detailed explanation of how his SHB trap works, and that will cost you only the time to watch it, which is less than 10 minutes."

Bill's Bees: 10,000 Bees Beard With Rhett & Link on Good Mythical Morning

"A guy named Bill put 10,000 Bees on my face."

Rhett & Link, hosts of Good Mystical Morning, the daily morning comedy talk show, head off to Bill's Bees Bee Yard to see if they'd be good candidates as beekeepers.

"Two crazy guys came to visit one day and wanted me to put bees on their face,” says Bill Lewis of Bill’s Bees. “Okay!!!” Bill's Bees does most anything to help the bees!

Also on board was Rob McFarland of HoneyLove

Parasitic Honey Bee Discovered for the First Time in Mid-Atlantic Region   By Jonathan Morales    November 3, 2014

Parasitized honey bees, or "zombees," have been found for the first time in the mid-Atlantic region, according to researchers at San Francisco State University. The discovery, made in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, was announced this morning by ZomBee Watch (, a project based at the University.

SF State Professor of Biology John Hafernik and his colleagues first reported parasitized honey bees in 2012 in an article in the journal PLOS ONE. After being infected with a fly parasite, the bees abandon their hives to congregate at night near lights, dying after a bout of disoriented, "zombie-like" behavior. Hafernik and other researchers are tracking the phenomenon with the help of more than 2,000  who report possible parasitized bee sightings to ZomBee Watch.

Early zombee sightings were mostly limited to the U.S. West Coast and South Dakota. Last year, however, researchers confirmed the presence of the parasitized bees in New England, and the latest finding indicates the phenomenon is more widespread than previously thought.

The Pennsylvania bees were discovered by Mountain Top beekeeper Sherry Grenzberg, who was sitting at her dining room table when she heard a "plinking" sound against her window from a bee trying to fly toward a chandelier. Having read an article about zombie bees just days earlier, she contacted ZomBee Watch and sent researchers photos and a bee sample. Brian Brown, a phorid fly expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, confirmed that the bee was infected by the Apocephalis borealis fly, the parasite behind the zombee infestations. The fly infects a  by depositing its eggs into the bee's abdomen. A few days after the bee dies, fly larvae burst out from between the bee's head and thorax.

"The fly, A. borealis, is common across North America, but this is the first time it has been found to be parasitizing honey bees in the mid-Atlantic region," said Brown, who has studied this group of flies extensively.

"This finding raises questions about whether we might be seeing the early stages of a host shift to honey bees by Apocephalis borealis in the mid-Atlantic region or whether this is something that has gone unnoticed for a number of years," Hafernik said. "Sherry's discovery also emphasizes the important contributions that citizen scientists can make to research on honey bee health, even in a relatively well-studied state like Pennsylvania."

Beekeepers who find their hives are infected should stay calm and use the best beekeeping practices to keep their hives as healthy as possible, as it is most likely that healthy hives are better able to survive infections from the phorid fly or any other pathogen, according to Hafernik. Because researchers are still trying to determine the scope of the zombee infestation, he urged more individuals to join the zombee hunt. The team has developed a series of videos to help new hunters get started.

Grenzberg noted that, as a backyard beekeeper, she can keep a close eye on her hives. "But I have friends who keep their beehives at airports or out in the middle of a farm field, and who knows how many hives they can lose? They could come back in the spring and there are no bees there."

The onset of winter makes it especially important for zombee hunters to make their observations sooner rather than later, particularly in the east, said Hafernik. "There is a window of opportunity right now, but that window is going to close quickly," he said.

Hafernik and his colleagues launched in 2012 to encourage citizen scientists to report cases of parasitized bees, which were first discovered on the SF State campus. Since then, more than 200,000 people have visited the project's website and more than 2,000 zombee hunters have submitted some 600 samples to be tested for infestation. Roughly 25 percent of participants are beekeepers, and the rest are interested citizens doing their part to help track this new threat to honey bee

Read more at:

Invasion of the Zombees: A Bee Horror Movie

Science Friday   October 28, 2014


Up and down the West coast of the U.S., bees are leaving their hives, flying around at night and then suddenly dropping dead. Learn all about the parasitic horror that quietly zombifies these insects and how you can become a real-life zombee hunter.
Produced by Christian Baker 
Additional footage provided by Chris Quock and Dr. John Hafernik 
Music by Audio Network

Learn how you can become a Zombee Hunter!