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Zombie bees

Washington beekeeper reports state's first case of 'zombie bees' that fly around erratically before suddenly dropping dead

Wednesday, October 03, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: zombie bees, beekeepers, pollinators

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(NaturalNews) A backyard beekeeper from Washington state says it was his own curiosity that first led him to the discovery that a relatively uncommon, but highly deadly, parasite had infected and killed off some of his honey bees. And according to the Seattle Times, Mark Hohn's unexpected observation of this unusual parasite, which causes bees to fly around erratically at night like zombies before eventually dropping dead, is its first known instance in the entire state.

The parasite responsible for triggering what are now being referred to as "zombie bees" is known as Apocephalus borealis. It was first observed in California back in 2008, when researchers from San Francisco State University (SFSU) noticed that certain bees were strangely leaving their hives at night and congregating around light sources in the same way that moths do. Normally, bees remain in their hives at night and stick to the daylight hours for their pollinating and foraging activities.

Upon further investigation, biologist and scientist John Hafernik from SFSU learned that the zombie bees had been infected by the parasite, which latches onto bees and injects them with it eggs. These eggs eventually hatch into maggots that "eat the insides out of the bee[s]" and quickly kill them. After consuming the bees' guts, the maggots pupate, during which time they form an outer shell and eventually turn into pupae that emerge from the bees' lifeless carcasses.

"Parasitized honey bees show hive abandonment behavior, leaving their hives at night and dying shortly thereafter," wrote Hafernik and his colleagues in an extensive paper they wrote about the issue that was published earlier this year in the online journal PLoS ONE. "We found widespread parasitism by A. borealis amongst 7,417 honey bees and 195 bumble bees ... [i]n all, 77 percent of our sample sites yielded honey bees parasitized by A. borealis."

You can read the full paper here: http://www.plosone.org

Are 'zombie bees' spreading across the U.S.?

Hafernik's study sites were all located in the San Francisco area, which is where nearly all reported cases of zombie bees have been identified thus far. But Hohn's discovery of the parasite in Washington, combined with other reports of the parasite's presence in Oregon and even distant South Dakota, confirms fears by some that the zombie bee phenomenon is spreading.

As if bees did not already have it bad enough with the rampant overuse of pesticides and the sharp uptick in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that some researchers are now finally admitting is directly linked to chemical use and environmental pollution, beekeepers are now having to deal with this deadly bee parasite that basically consumes bees from the inside out.

"It may occur a lot more widely than we think," says Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University (WSU), about the prevalence of zombie bees. Sheppard's work has primarily focused on how pesticide chemicals accumulate in developing bee larvae and shorten their lifespans.

As far as tracking cases of zombie bee outbreaks is concerned, Hafernik has created a citizen science project called ZombeeWatch.org that monitors where A. borealis is affecting bees throughout the U.S., and where bees are erratically leaving their hives at night regardless of A. borealis exposure. You can learn more about the project by visiting: https://www.zombeewatch.org/

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