Tiny Parasitic Fly Turns Honeybees Into Zombees

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Bees are usually among the most orderly and industrious species on the planet -- but that sense of teamwork quickly goes out the window when they turn into mindless, suicidal zombies. Researchers in the Bay Area say they've discovered one reason why bees in the region may be experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder -- the presence of a tiny parasitic fly that causes otherwise straight-laced honeybees to lose control and ultimately take their own lives. "It's the flight of the living dead," says one researcher.

Researchers from San Francisco State say that a majority of the hives they examined in the region were impacted by the parasitic insect, which could be responsible for an overall decline in honeybee numbers. The small flies, Apocephalus borealis, are said to lay their eggs on the abdomen of bees, meanwhile chemically altering their behavior -- turning them into 'the living dead', essentially.

From the Mercury News:

The hapless bees walk around in circles, with no apparent sense of direction. Some are unable to even stand on their legs.

"They kept stretching them out and then falling over," [lead investigator and biology professor John] Hafernik said. "It really painted a picture of something like a zombie."

The odd effects of the parasite also seemed to dictate nocturnal behavior in the otherwise daylight active bees. Some of the first infected bees were discovered beneath an outdoor lamp, leading researchers to believe that the zombie bees are drawn to bright lights, despite the fact that its a suicidal attraction.

Biologists believe this new discovery might help explain the proliferation of Colony Collapse Disorder which has already decimated the important pollinators' numbers throughout California and across the United States. As the most experienced worker-bees die off, it could destabilize the sustainable function of the hive, leading to collapse.

"We don't know how big a player this is," says Hafernik. "It could be a really important one."

Researchers say that further study will be needed to determine the broader influence of this parasite may play in the collapse of bee colonies, and whether anything can be done to stop it.

Tags: Bees | California | Insects