'Zombie' Bees Stagger Across Northeast With Homicidal Hitchhiker

Image: 'Zombie' Bees Stagger Across Northeast With Homicidal Hitchhiker Apocephalus borealis, bottom-left

Friday, 31 Jan 2014 10:54 AM

By Michael Mullins

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"Zombie bees" have arrived in the Northeast, staggering under the weight of a homicidal hitchhiker.

After surfacing more than five years ago on the West Coast, the infected European honey bees, which have homicidal parasites latched onto their bodies, were spotted last year in Burlington, Vt. by an amateur beekeeper.

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According to John Hafernik, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University who helped verify the existence of "Zombie bees" on the East Coast, the parasitic fly known as the Apocephalus borealis attach onto their host bee and lay eggs on it. The eggs then hatch and cause the bee to act erratically before eventually dying from the parasitic invasion, ABC News reported.

"They fly around in a disoriented way, get attracted to light, and then fall down and wander around in a way that's sort of reminiscent of zombies in the movies," Hafernik told ABC News. "Sometimes we've taken to calling [it], when they leave their hives, 'the flight of the living dead.'"

"It's sort of a combination of zombies and aliens mixed together," he added.

"Zombie bees" were accidently discovered by Hafernik in 2008 at bee hive facilities in Oregon, Washington State, California and South Dakota, the New York Daily News reported.

The "zombie bees" in Vermont were discovered by hardware-store employee and amateur beekeeper Anthony Cantrell, who observed bees sporadically dying outside his house.

Cantrell contacted Hafernik after he learned about the "zombie bee" occurrence through the biology professor's website ZomBeeWatch.org. 

"I just thought, great, one more thing that the poor honeybee has to deal with," Cantrell, who has two hives, told ABC News.

According to ZomBeeWatch.org, although the majority of recorded cases occurred along the West Coast, there have been several unverified "zombie bee" sightings in Florida as well as one in New York State and Connecticut.

According to Leif Richardson, a doctoral student at Dartmouth College who studies the interactions between plants, pollinators and parasites, Apocephalus borealis flies may be transmitting viruses and pathogens to the insect.

Beekeepers "should definitely be concerned about it," Richardson told the New York Daily News.

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