According to researchers, mysterious parasitic flies are turning honeybees into zombies, gravely depleting their numbers.
It appears these harmful insects may be partially to blame for colony collapse disorder (CCD). This strange phenomenon takes place when a large number of worker bees from a colony leave their hive, and has been blamed for 60% of the bee loss reported in 2008.
Up until now, the US Environmental Protection Agency has believed that the biggest culprits for this occurrence are habitat loss, global warming, parasite mites called Varroa destructor and pesticide poisoning.
However, now it seems that the Apocephalus borealis flies may be playing a role in this destruction as well. While these attackers normally infect bumblebees and yellow jackets, there have been more than 100 confirmed cases involving honeybees also.
As researchers explain, the parasitic flies pierce their victims’ abdomen and lay eggs into their stomach. As the maggots develop inside, they wreak havoc to the honeybees’ muscles and nervous system. They affect their hosts’ behavior, causing them to change their usual patterns.
Honeybees begin acting as if they were zombies, abandoning their nests and flying at night although they are normally diurnal insects. In addition, in their erratic, uncharacteristic rambling, they sometimes swarm around bright lights, until they die.
“We’re not making a case that this is the doomsday bug for bees”, clarified Dr. John Hafernik, biology professor at the San Francisco State University.
However, the scientist still believes that this is an interesting occurrence which should be studied more carefully, especially since honeybees are already in danger of imminent extinction.
As a result, back in 2012, Dr. Hafernik launched the ZomBee Watch project, which allows amateur entomologists the opportunity to collaborate in identifying Apocephalus borealis infestations throughout the U.S.
The same year, the researcher also co-wrote an academic paper about these parasitic flies, which was published in the journal PLOS. As he explains, gaining a broader insight into the behavior of these insects could prevent them from spreading to other areas where hosts would be left defenseless against such attacks.
Also, it might allow scientists to understand the factors contributing to CCD, in order to combat this disorder and keep bees in the safety of their hives.
Currently, bees are already under immense pressure in the U.S., since 40% of the colonies have already perished, due to other well-known sources of stress.
For now, it’s unclear exactly how extensive the damage caused by these tiny insects really is, but researchers are trying to investigate this situation. Numerous cases have already been reported on the West Coast, but it appears other incidents of this kind have also been witnessed by volunteers in eastern parts of the country.
While killer flies may not necessarily spell destruction for the hive insects, they still represent an additional burden, which can only slash honeybee populations even further.
One cannot help but agree with San Francisco beekeeper Robert Mackimmie, who recently told the Associated Press, “It’s tough to be a bee these days”.
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