Zombie bee hunters needed


For years, researchers and scientists have buzzed about trying to learn what has caused a sudden drop in the number of honeybees in many regions around the world.

After an accidental discovery of bees being “possessed” in a zombie-like way by a native fly species, professor John Hafernik of SF State and his team are launching a new website to look deeper into this discovery.

The “zombie fly,” known in latin as Apocephalus borealis fly, latches on to the bees and lays eggs in its abdomen.

Once the bee becomes parasitized, it lives for about a week before the fleshy little larvae push their way out of the creature’s thorax and head.

Before it goes out like a bad horror movie, however, the bee starts exhibiting strange behavior and acts, well, like a zombie. It moves in increasingly erratic circles and becomes drawn to bright lights.

To better understand just how widespread the zombie bee problem may be, zombeewatch.org calls for residents across the U.S. to keep a close eye out for bees surrounding lights and dead bees near such lights.

By collecting this data, Hafernik hopes to find out more about this potentially new phenomenon:

“We’re hoping to find out how widespread it is. We’ve done most of our work in the Bay Area, but this fly is common throughout North America. We want to figure out if it’s only happening here or throughout the nation.”

The website is being launched now because this is the time of year when many bees become parasitized. Bees are much more commonly infected around July and August in most places in the U.S., according to Hafernik.

In the Bay Area, peak parasitization season starts in September and runs until January.

ZomBee Watch is being launched now with an eye toward expanding the observations that the public could help contribute, according to Hafernik:

“We hope to expand the website for more specific purposes later. We want to encourage the people involved to become more specific with the information they are looking for and giving us. This is a project that will have legs and extend over a long period of time.”

Right now, ZomBee Watch hosts tutorials on how to identify so-called “zombees.” The site is seeking residents of the U.S. and Canada to participate in the project.

Honeybees are suspected of being increasingly targeted by the egg-laying fly due to dwindling numbers of bumblebees, a more common host for the fly, Hafernik said.

Hafernik said that by starting the project during peak seasons, it will boost the chances of finding infected bees and cultivate a group of dedicated individuals to keep sending in information:

“This is a pretty good time to start because people will have a good chance of finding (the bees), and if they find it, they will keep looking and become more involved in the project.”

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