‘Zombie bees’ found in Washington state for first time

September 25, 2012

From: Digital Journal


By Leigh Goessl


It has been confirmed an amateur beekeeper in Washington state  has found “zombie bees” on his property. This is the first time “zombees” have  been identified in Washington state.


At first the man didn’t realize the bees were infected by the  condition caused by parasitic flies, however, he collected some samples and has  been tracking to see what happens. So far, he is seeing classic signs of the  strange phenomenon.


According to The  Seattle Times, Mark Hohn, who is described as a novice beekeeper, came home  from vacation recently and found a number of dead bees on his property. It  wasn’t until a few days later he realized the bees had been turned into “zombie  bees”.


Hohn had observed the bees acting  erratically and acting out of character. The bees were flying around after dark,  flying in “jerky patterns”, seeking out light sources, and then “flopping on the  floor” before eventually dying.  All of these are characteristics of a condition  known as “zombie bees”, which has  been observed in recent years in several west-coast regions.


Discovered by San Francisco State  University biologist John Hafernik in 2008, the condition is brought on by  parasitic flies that land on the bees and inject their eggs into the bee’s  abdomen. Eventually the flies hatch and lead to the demise of the infected bee.


“They basically eat the insides out of  the bee,” Hafernik said.


Hohn remembered reading about the  “zombie bees” and collected samples in plastic bags. After a week, he saw pupae,  which substantiated his belief that the bees on his property were infected. It  is too early for any adult flies to emerge to document this stage from the bees  he’s collected.


The zombified bees, have been primarily  found in the states of California and Oregon, however, according  to a map tracking the infected bees, other areas have found suspicions of  infected bees and are currently undergoing sampling. The Seattle Times reported  80 percent of hives in the San Francisco Bay Area are infected.


Scientists are actively watching this  phenomenon due to the decline of bee colonies that has been occurring across the  U.S.  The role of the parasitic flies is not fully known if/how the flies are  contributing to what’s become known as colony  collapse disorder (CCD).


Bees are not the only insects to be  infected and turned into a “zombie”. In 2011, “zombie ants” were found  in Thailand. These ants, which reside deep in Thailand’s rainforests, were  found to be infected by a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps. Like the bees,  the ants moved around in an erratic fashion before they eventually die.


It is believed that the zombie bee  problem is more widespread than is currently confirmed.


Hohn told the Seattle Times, “I’m  pretty confident I’m not the only one in Washington state who has them [zombie  bees].”


Earlier this month, National  Geographic reported Hafenik and other researchers are using technology to  tag infected bees to track behaviors.


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