Parasite Turns Honeybees Into Walking Zombies

Possible Clue Into Colony Collapse

Frank Heinz

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case, what's happening to many of the Bay Area's honeybees may quench your thirst for the morbid and macabre.

San Francisco biologists say they may know why our honeybee populations are plummeting: parasites are turning the bees into zombies.

San Francisco State researchers say the bees go mad, abandoning their hive in a suicidal rush toward bright lights.

Here's how they attack: the parasite, a tiny fly, deposits its eggs into the bee's abdomen, then takes over. Infected bees essentially become the "living dead." The host bee walks around in circles, seemingly without direction -- some unable to stand on their legs. They just fall over -- essentially like a zombie. Some turn into nocturnal creatures. Then, seven days after their death, little larvae emerge from the bee.  Pretty creepy.
The tiny fly has been found in bees from about three-quarters of the 31 hives surveyed in the Bay Area.   They were found essentially everywhere except Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Scientists say the bees' demise may be contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder - a phenomenon of falling honeybee hives around the country, which could take a toll on the agricultural industry, which depends on these pollinators. 

Infected bees were found in San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Concord, Orinda, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Benicia, Larkspur, Mill Valley and San Rafael. They were not found in hives in San Jose, Mount Hamilton, Los Gatos or Saratoga.

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