September 25, 2012 in City

‘Zombie bees’ found in state

Deadly infection caused by tiny parasitic fly
Associated Press
Associated Press/The Seattle Times/Ellen M. Banner photo

Mark Hohn, a novice beekeeper in Kent, holds up a plastic bag with a dead zombie bee and pupae — two at each end of the bag, Sept. 22, 2012. Hohn found that his bees are infected with a parasite that causes them to fly at night and lurch around erratically until they die.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Zombie bees have been reported in Washington.

Novice beekeeper Mark Hohn, of Kent, found that his bees are infected with a parasite that causes them to fly at night and lurch around erratically until they die.

It’s the first time the infected bees have been found in the state, the Seattle Times reported Monday.

The infections are being tracked by San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik through his website The zombie bees also are being studied by Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University.

It could be another threat to bees that are needed to pollinate crops. Hives have been failing in recent years due to a mysterious ailment called colony collapse disorder.

Hohn found dead bees a few weeks ago when he got home from vacation. He also noticed bees buzzing around the light in his shop, flying in jerky patterns and finally flopping on the floor. He remembered hearing about the zombie bees, so he collected several of the corpses and popped them into a plastic bag. About a week later he had evidence his bees were infected – the pupae of parasitic flies.

Zombie bees were discovered in 2008 in California by Hafernik, who uses his website to recruit citizen scientists like Hohn to track them across the country. Observers have found infected bees in California, Oregon, South Dakota and, now, Washington.

The fly’s life cycle is reminiscent of the movie “Alien.” The small adult female fly lands on the back of a honeybee and injects eggs into the bee’s abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots.

“They basically eat the insides out of the bee,” Hafernik said.

After consuming their host, the maggots pupate, forming a hard outer shell that looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. That’s what Hohn found in the plastic bag with the dead bees. Adult flies emerge in three to four weeks.

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