Zombie inducing parasites? Is it a trailer for a horror flick? Or is the parasite the reason for the devastating honey bee population drop in recent years? Scientists believe they have found a parasite that causes honey bees to abandon their hives, lose their sense of reality, and rush towards bright lights in a suicidal frenzy.
The new study by San Francisco State University researchers has discovered this anomaly that causes bees to become zombie-like. Biology professor John Hafernick, lead investigator and president of the California Academy of Sciences states that tiny flies have deposited eggs into the bees’ abdomen. In a “drunken stupor” the honey bees walk in circles, lose their sense of direction and their legs become paralyzed.
Hafernick stated, “They (the infected bees) kept stretching them (their legs) out and then fell over.. It really painted a picture of something like a zombie.”
The recent decline in honey bee populations has caused havoc in the ecosystem. The multi-billion dollar agricultural business has been devastated in California due to the inability of honey bees to pollinate crops including most nuts, vegetables and fruits. Hardest hit is the almond industry which lost $1 billion in 2011.
The “Colony Collapse Disorder” has gone nationwide. There has been a mysterious, rash reduction in the number of honey bees. Hives have been abandoned and crops have not been able to sustain production without the assistance of the bees. Up until the parasite, scientists believed that viruses and fungus may have been the culprit.
The discovery of the parasite came by accident. Three years ago, Hafernick returned to his office with a praying mantis. Putting the mantis in a jar with a few bees. Hafernick admits to forgetting about his mantis for a week. When he returned to the jar, the carcasses of the bees were covered by small fly pupae. Upon discovering the pupae on the dead bees, Hafernick unlocked part of the equation of the disappearing bee population. The fly, Apocephalus borealis, was the same species that fed off wasps and bumblebees.
Under intense study, it was discovered that the flies are able to burrow into the “worker bees” causing an odd reaction. The bees literally become confused and disoriented. The bees became nocturnal, abandoning their hives. The bees became a host to the Apocephalus fly, seven days of confusion led to the death of the bee. Emerging from the carcass was the pupae of the Apocephalus.
So far most of the hives and bee colonies that have become contaminated have been found in San Francisco, Oakland, Orinda, Walnut Creek, concord, El Cerrito, San Rafael, and Larkspur California. It is not known why other cities in the Bay Area, Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose or Mount Hamilton, were not affected.
The puzzle pieces of the lost colonies of bees appear to be coming together. The question of origin and how to rid the bees of their parasitic enemies is of the utmost importance. The zombie worker bees upset the entire hive and consequently the ecosystem. The infected bees leave the hive in chaos and then the whole infrastructure of the hive community collapses. The effects of this phenomenon have been cataclysmic in some regions. Understanding the origin is the first step in revitalizing the honey bees’ existence.