What Are Zombie Bees?

Zombie bees are:

  • Diseased bees
  • A threat to bee populations
  • Known as Apocephalus borealis

The role bees play in ecology is important. They’re critical for the reproduction of numerous plants as they help plants pollinate when they go out to hunt for nectar. This is then used to make honey.

Bees are at risk from a few angles. One of these is something that’s been coined “zombie bees,” which relates to how bees behave once they’re suffering from an infection.

The Meaning of Zombie Bees

Zombie bees are honeybees that have been infected by a parasitic insect known as Apocephalus borealis. The behavior of the honeybees changes while under the influence of this parasitic insect.

How Bees Get Infected

The female of this parasitic insect climbs on the back of a bee. She then uses an appendage called an Ovipositor to plant eggs into the abdomen of a bee. 

When these eggs hatch, the larvae begin to feed on the flight muscles in the thorax. Within a week, the larvae are developed.

The Effect of the Infection

After becoming infected, the health of the infected honeybee will rapidly deteriorate. In the later stages of infection, the host honeybee will become increasingly agitated and display weird behavior. These unwilling hosts of the parasite infection are driven to act erratically, or “zombielike,” moments before they die.

Bees see higher frequencies of electromagnetic waves, hence they’re blind without sunlight. When this parasitic insect has infected them, they fly from their hives at night. This is something bees wouldn’t normally do.

They’ll go out to seek out light sources at night and fly around the light in haphazard circles. After this, they’ll fall to the ground, unable to fly anymore. They’ll then walk around strangely for a while before finally succumbing to the parasite and dying. If there’s an infestation in your hive or any hive close to you, you’re going to find a lot of dead bees at the base of light sources.

It’s not clear exactly why bees act in this manner. Perhaps the parasite that’s infected them is driving them to find better places for breeding. It could also be a deliberate and heroic act by the bees to prevent an infestation in their hives.

When the larvae have completed their growth cycle, they burst out of the dead bee’s body and begin to pupate. As much as 15 fly larvae can come from a single honeybee. After pupating, the adult insect fly comes out of the cocoons, and the process repeats.

What Are Apocephalus Borealis?

Apocephalus borealis belongs to the species of North American parasitoid phorid fly known for attacking bumblebees, honeybees, and paper wasps.

Cases of this parasitic insect infecting honeybees have been documented in California, South Dakota, Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island, and Vermont. Reports of sightings in Canada have also begun to surface.

This parasite is native to North America, and it’s known for attacking bumblebees and paper wasps. The attack on honeybees is a recent development that was first discovered by Dr. John Hafernik. Hafernik has yet to gather sufficient information to explain why the parasitic fly attacks honeybees. The fact that they seem to be thriving isn’t good news for the already decreasing honeybee population.

Unfortunately, these insects also act as carriers of Nosema ceranae and the deformed wing virus. Not only do these insects use honeybees as hosts for their eggs, but they’re also vectors of these honeybee pathogens. 

This makes A. borealis a major factor to consider when talking about Colony Collapse Disorder.

What to Do to Help

If you want to do something to help, it’s a good idea to find bees that look sick or bees that are already dead. Monitor them to see if any of these parasite flies emerge.

If you’re handy, you can also make your own light traps. These will draw any infected bees in the area to you. Don’t place the light trap close to your hives. If the light falls on the entrance of your hive, it might encourage the infected bees not to come out.

Don’t worry about being wrong, even if the bee you suspect ends up not being infected. Your help will still give researchers information to help them understand what contributes to colony collapse.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that zombie bees are a cause for concern. The honeybee population needs to be protected from this new threat.

While it’s difficult to notice since the infected bee flies away from the hive, if you see a dead bee with larvae coming out of it, that bee is infected. You can use a light trap to coerce the zombie bees out. Store them safely and get in touch with bee researchers to help combat this threat to the bee population.

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