A parasite that gives bees "zombie-like" qualities

A parasite that gives bees "zombie-like" qualities

A San Francisco State University entomologist is studying honeybees' erratic behavior after parasitic infection.

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March 1, 2016

Call it “The Buzzing Dead.” Infestations of what scientists have dubbed “zombie bees” have spread across both the West and East coasts in recent years.

The honeybee hordes, while not actually undead, are the unwilling hosts to a parasite infection that researchers think drives the drones to act erratically, or “zombielike,” in the moments before they die.

To better understand the parasitized swarms, John Hafernik, an entomologist at San Francisco State University has recruited people countrywide to join his hunt. “The big question for us was, ‘Is this a San Francisco thing?’ Or something that is taking place all over the country that has not been noticed by biologists before,” he said.

Since he began the project four years ago, he has concluded the answer is the latter. Volunteers have helped identify infected honeybees in California, Washington and Oregon as well as Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. More than 800 bee observations have been uploaded to the ZomBee Watch online database. 

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Photo: Cassie Neiden