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'Flight of the Living Dead?' ZomBees Threaten Bee Colonies

No joke: Parasite flies are causing zombie bees to fly strangely and leave their homes. Scientists want your help tracking down the ZomBees.

Just when you thought it was safe to reach for some honey... Scientists have reported honeybees engaging in some horrific behavior.

After a parasite fly lays its eggs in the abdomen of a honeybee, the insect begins to lose interest in its own hive, according to biology professor John Hafernik of San Francisco State University.

Soon after, the parasitized bees are flying in strange patterns and circling outdoor lights. Before long, the affected bees drop dead. About seven days later, tiny brown pill-shaped pupae emerge from the bee carcass. (See video of the strange bee-havior, attached).

The phenomenon has been spotted dozens of times in the San Francisco Bay area, according to a website designed to track the so-called zombees.

The zombees have been spotted as far south as Santa Barbara, and even as far away as South Dakota. Although the site shows no Orange County zombee attacks—yet—scientists want to enlist the public's help tracking the strange insect activity.

"We’re sort of a mom and pop operation at this point," Hafernik said, "but 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."

August is the "high season for parasitized bees," said SFSU publicist Jonathan Morales.

"Any data from Mission Viejo and Orange County—whether it's confirmation of 'zombee bees' or reports that bees in your area are, in fact, not infected—will help [scientists] understand how far the parasite has spread," he said.

According to zombeewatch.org, the behavior is consistent with Colony Collapse Disorder. But right now, it's unclear what role zombees might play in the disappearance of North American honeybee colonies.

Peter Schelden August 04, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Have you seen a strange look in your bees' eyes, Alberto? Speaking of bath salts... Synthetic drug bust recently in South Orange County: http://missionviejo.patch.com/articles/armed-federal-officers-serve-warrant-in-sjc
ktlblk5 August 04, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Meanwhile, what does this do to the honey that some body may be dripping on their 'choculas??! ( Is this where 'The Blob' then is going to come from in our future/ science?. We should be especially concerned in a community where' life can imitate art'). Do we need EPA honey strainers, now?? (or do husbands already qualify for that...?)
Molecular Hydration Specialist August 04, 2012 at 10:55 PM
We recently had a swarm of reportedly Africanized honeybees removed from our MV backyard.
Molecular Hydration Specialist August 04, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Had a swarm of reported Africanized Honey Bees removed from my Mission viejo back yard about a month ago.
Brian Romberg August 17, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Thanks for this great article! It absolutely saddens me to see the absolute disregard for nature most people have. Though I've been a master gardener / forest care provider for nearly 40 years, when I saw the devastation our plant life was enduring as a result of colony collapse I felt it was my responsibility to learn the art of beekeeping. If you can't find someone in your area to safely and HUMANELY remove and relocate the hive feel free to email/call me I know Beeks around the country and am more-than-willing to help find someone in your area that will help SAVE THE BEES!~ www.LivingBees.com I will be researching the ZomBee phenom and post back when I hear more from my peers, colleagues, and fellow instructors.

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