Are zombees a doomsday for bees? A honeybee works atop gift zinnia in Accord, N.Y. While scientists have documented cases of tiny flies infesting honeybees, causing the bees to lurch and stagger around like zombies before they die, researchers don’t know the scope of the problem. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Are zombees a doomsday for bees?
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Call them "The Buzzing Dead."
 
Honeybees are being threatened by tiny flies that lead them to lurch and stagger around like zombies. The afflicted bees often make uncharacteristic night flights, sometimes buzzing around porch lights before dying.
 
Well-documented on the West Coast, some zombie-bee cases also have been detected in eastern states by volunteers helping track its spread. This comes as honeybees have already been ravaged in recent years by mysterious colony collapse disorder, vampire mites and nutritional deficiencies.
 
"We're not making a case that this is the doomsday bug for bees," said John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University. "But it is certainly an interesting situation where we have a parasite that seems to affect the behavior of bees and has them essentially abandoning their hive."
 
Hafernik in 2012 started a project to enlist people to track the spread of zombie bees called ZomBee Watch. Participants are asked to upload photos of the bees they collect and photos of pupae and adult flies as they emerge. They have more than 100 confirmed cases.
 
The fly had already been known to afflict bumblebees and yellow jackets. Then in 2008, Hafernik made a discovery after scooping up some disoriented bees beneath a light outside his campus office. Before long, he noticed pupae emerging from a bee.
 
That led to the first of many zombie honeybee cases found in the San Francisco area and beyond. Researchers believe Apocephalus borealis flies attack bees as they forage. The flies pierce the bees' abdomens and deposit eggs, affecting the behavior of the doomed bees.
 
A beekeeper in Burlington, Vermont, detected the first zombie case in the East in 2013. Then this summer, amateur beekeeper Joe Naughton of Hurley, New York, discovered the first of two recently confirmed cases in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.
 
Naughton, who has 200,000 or more bees, is not panicking just yet.
 
"You know, the 'zombie' thing is a little bit sensational and some people hear that and they go right into alarm bells ringing," Naughton said. "Where the state of things are right now is mostly just fact finding."
 
And there are a lot of facts to find.
 
It's possible that zombie watchers like Naughton are just now detecting a parasite that has been targeting honeybees for a long time, though Hafernik notes that reports of honeybees swarming night lights are a recent phenomenon.
 
It's not clear if zombie bees can be linked to colony collapse disorder, a syndrome in which whole colonies fail after the loss of adult worker bees. Scientists have not been able to prove what causes CCD, though some believe it could be an interplay of factors including mites, pesticides and habitat loss. For now, threats like mites are more of a concern to researchers than the spread of zombie fly parasites.
 
"We have several other stresses on bees and we don't want any other stress like this one," said Ramesh Sagili, an assistant professor of apiculture at Oregon State University. "We have to be cautious, but I'm not alarmed that this parasite is going to create a big problem."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it better to focus on facts rather than panicking?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (46)
  • sidman,bryce-cas
    10/20/2015 - 08:09 a.m.

    1.If you panic right away then facts become harder to find due to people's baseless assumptions.

    2.I'm sad to see that there is another thing killing off the bees. I don't think that they should be called zom-bee parasites though,because it doesn't reanimate dead bees it just makes them lose their minds. The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is still the only zombie like infection to me.

  • austinw-day
    10/20/2015 - 12:24 p.m.

    When it comes to making decisions, facts make everything better than letting emotions run amok. People tend to assume the worst when they hear the words "zombie" and "doomsday", leading them to do rash things. If the facts tell that it is something that can be avoided then we don't have to worry. Otherwise those thoughts will influence the facts even more.

  • loganr-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:03 p.m.

    If one focuses on the facts before panicking, they can find a reason not to panic. Just because something looks or seems detrimental, doesn't mean that it is.

  • carolinam-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:04 p.m.

    If you panick than you will assume stuff that might not be true rather than looking at the true facts.

  • victoriad-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:04 p.m.

    I hope they can track all the zombie bees...this sounds like it is very dangerous!

  • maggiem-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:05 p.m.

    It is better to focus rather than to panic, because when you are frazzeled it is easier to make very rash decisions. Oppossed to when you are calm you are able to collect your thoughts and find the best possible solution.

  • kianad-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:06 p.m.

    It is better to focus on facts rather than panicking because it could turn out to be something small then you just freaked out for no reason.

  • victoriaz-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:06 p.m.

    If you panic, you won't focus on the reality of the situation. You have to clear your mind, focus on what you know, and remain calm. Panicking will get you nowhere.

  • braydenf-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:06 p.m.

    Panicking gets us nowhere. We don't move forward and we certainly don't get closer to finding a solution (Or cure; however you want to put it). We need to "keep our chill" and just learn. That's how progress is made. And it's a heck of a lot more fun.

  • kaitlyna-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:07 p.m.

    if you focus on panicking then fear will cloud your mind making the situation seem worse than it really is,but if you focus on facts then you can focus on how to make the situation better.

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