ZomBee Update

Editor’s Note: We’ve been following developments in this discovery (Zombee Watch and Zombie Flies: A Potential New Threat to Beekeeping?), and recently received this update from Ol’ Drone about the parasite found attacking bees in California. Beyond the implications on honeybee health, we can’t help but marvel at the science behind attaching itty-bitty radio frequency trackers to honeybees!

A parasite identified as Apocephalus borealis, a tiny 2mm long fly, attaches itself to a bee, lays eggs under the skin which hatch into maggots. These parasitized bees are then forced to leave the hive in the evening. This is unusual for bees that normally fly only in daylight. The infected bees then are attracted to streetlights and perform a strange dance of erratic circles, never returning to their hive. Because of the fly’s nighttime murdering tendencies they have earned the name “ZomBees.”

A team of research entomologists at San Francisco State College is conducting an elaborate experiment to learn more about the new parasite and the plight of the honeybees. They are tagging infected bees with two tiny radio frequency trackers each less than .5mm, and are monitoring the bees’ movements in and out of the hive. Specially designed dual laser readers interact with the individual trackers recording the 24-hour movement of the tagged bees.

The scientists hope to learn how much of a health concern these flies are for the bees and how the foraging behavior is affected. Since foraging bees routinely send navigation instructions to other foraging bees, the dancing “ZomBees” may not send direction signals properly. If there are weak links in the interactions of the flies and bees, the scientists could learn how to control the spread of this parasite. Information learned from this research may also assist in the action of hive abandoning found in the CCD problem. They hope to learn if the “ZomBees” disrupt in any way the productivity of the affected colony. Originally found only in California, the fly has recently been also found in Minnesota.

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