San Francisco, CA – Zombie movies have always had a great following. But far from fiction, researchers have found zombies in our midst.
Honey bees, which have come under much pressure from environmental degradation and intense commercial exploitation, are facing a new danger. Some are becoming zom-bees.
The maggots of the Apocephalus borealis fly are infesting honey bees and turning them into the living dead. Biologist John Hafernik, of San Francisco State University, has been monitoring the situation for four years. “Known infections are primarily on the west coast,” he says. Just last month researchers confirmed the presence of zom-bees in Oregon and Washington.
Following four years of research into the phenomenon the study, A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis, was published in PloS One this year.
To get a handle on the scale of the problem Hafernik is recruiting the assistance of “citizen scientists”. He’s appealing to scientists, students, bee keepers and ordinary folks across the U.S. and Canada, who are willing to keep an eye out for the bilious bees, to chronicle their behaviour, take pictures and if possible set light traps to capture them and maybe even submit the specimens for further study. Hafernik maintains he already has about 1,100 people supplying data to the website he launched this summer ZomBeeWatch.org. “It would be really helpful if they would set traps and see if their hives are infected. Even if they find their hives are infected it’s still not a reason to panic at this point. We don’t have evidence that this is something that is decimating hives. We’re trying to find out how big a problem it is,” said Hafernik.