'Zombie Bees' Spread to East Coast

Fly causes brain damage, erratic behavior
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2014 4:18 AM CST
Vermonters' brains are probably still safe, but not their beehives.   (AP Photo/Andy Duback)

(Newser) – Vermont beekeepers face mite infestations, extreme temperature swings, the possibility of colony collapse, and now a new threat: "zombie bees." A beekeeper in Burlington discovered zombie bees in his hive last fall, the first time they'd been found in the eastern United States. A professor from San Francisco State University, discovered the first zombie bees in 2008. A fly called Apocephalus borealis attaches itself to the bee and injects its eggs, which grow inside the bee, he says. Scientists believe it causes neurological damage resulting in erratic, jerky movement and night activity, "like a zombie."

But these aren't undead bees doomed to roam for eternity, the professor says. They often die only a few hours after showing symptoms. Researchers tracking the zombie bee's spread across the US have found cases in California, Washington, Oregon, and South Dakota, but this is the first time the bee has been found this far east. Experts fear that the fly involved in zombie bees could also transmit viruses—or could start hatching from dead bees and completing its life cycle inside the hive. "I think it would be another nail in the coffin for honeybees in the northern hemisphere," the Burlington beekeeper says.

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