Backyard zombee hunters sought by SFSU researchers 

click to enlarge Host: Honeybees infected by the Zombie Fly to carry the fly’s eggs do strange things such as leave the hive at night, fly around porch lights and stumble or walk in circles.
  • Host: Honeybees infected by the Zombie Fly to carry the fly’s eggs do strange things such as leave the hive at night, fly around porch lights and stumble or walk in circles.

Scientists want YOU to become a ZomBee hunter.

Researchers are recruiting beekeepers and others to be on the look out for honeybees under control of the parasite Zombie Fly.

Hunters are asked to look for honeybees behaving in an abnormal fashion. If they leave the hive at night, stumble and walk around in circles, or fly around porch lights and into houses, then you may have yourself a ZomBee.

Scientists ask that you capture it and observe it for a few weeks. If the bee has been parasitized, maggots will eventually emerge and turn into little brown pupae, before becoming Zombie flies ready to find new prey.

Discovered by San Francisco State University Professor John Hafernik in 2008, ZomBees are honeybees that have been parasitized by the North American native Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis. The fly lands on a bee’s back and inserts its eggs inside and then the maggots feed on the inside of the bee.

Then the bee starts behaving strangely and vacates the hive at night and never comes back. The parasite could be one of the many causes of colony collapse disorder, which has been affecting honeybees for more than six years.

“People would interpret it as a parasite controlling its host,” Hafernik said. But he said the bees may also be leaving the hive to protect the rest of the hive from the parasite.

“This parasitism seems to be associated with hive abandonment,” he said. “If we can figure out why they leave their hive at night, maybe we can understand why bees would abandon their hive.”

ZomBees could be but one of several factors contributing to the disorder.  

“Bees have many health challenges, ranging from viruses, bacterial diseases, loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides by home owners, municipalities and farmers,” said researcher and apiary manager Rob MacKimmie.

Research shows that 80 percent of the hives studied have been affected by the parasite, but scientists want to know how widespread the problem is.   

“We hope that we can find that commitment from a few thousand dedicated ZomBee hunters here in North America and hopefully worldwide,” said SFSU graduate student Jonathan Ivers, who prepared a report on the parasite’s distribution throughout the Bay Area.

The team created a website — ZomBeeWatch.org — for “ZomBee hunters” to submit their data.

“ZomBee Watch has the potential to become the database for scientists and citizen scientists to collect data and collaborate on where and how the Zombie Fly has been found,” said Ivers, who helped create the website.

kfigard@sfexaminer.com

How to become a zombee hunter

  • To join the project, go to ZombeeWatch.org and click on the join the project button.
  • Sign up and start looking for parasitized honeybees that exhibit some of the following behaviors: stumble and walk around in circles, leave the hive at night, and fly around porch lights and into houses.
  • Capture the bee carefully and put it in a container to observe for a couple weeks.
  • If the bee is parasitized, maggots will come out and turn into little brown pupae, before turning into Zombie flies.
  • Submit your data to ZombeeWatch.

About The Author

Kayla Figard

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Monday, Aug 29, 2016

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