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

    It is better to focus on facts rather than panicking because what you are panicking over may not be worth the panic, and panicking is not productive. Panicking is, rather, counterproductive. Through focusing on the facts we can advance our knowledge about the problem and create a solution, whereas panicking does not get us closer to solving a problem.

  • hannahf-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:08 p.m.

    When focusing on facts it can be easier to focus on the bright side. If and when you panic little things leave your mind like that not many bees are actually affected by the parasite.

  • alexandrah-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    After reading this interesting story it is good to see that the researchers and other people affiliated with bees are keeping calm because there might not be anything to panic about. Honeybees swarming nightlights may be a new phenomenon, it may also just be something that we haven't noticed before. After all bugs swarming lights isn't new, so who's to say we haven't just overlooked it before? That's why people need to stay calm. The researchers don't know what's going on just yet.

  • clayg-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    i dont think they should be called "zom-bees" because they do not come back to life after they are dead and the vampire flies can be taken care of before they wipe out the entire bee population.

  • faras-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    It is better to focus on the facts rather than panicking because often time the facts are what keep people from panicking. if you know how something works and a problem occurs you could, and should look to the facts to find answers. Panicking doesn't really solve anything.

  • victoriad-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    Sometimes, when people panic, it blocks their sense of reason and they jump to unsensible conclusions. People should just focus on what they know for sure and not let their imaginations run wild.

  • gabrield-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    We must focus on the facts because the facts show the true effect of what is happening with the bees.

  • deniseu-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    It is stated in the article that it is possible that these cases of "zombie bees" have been going for a long time but have just been recently detected. It is better to focus on the facts presented in the story instead of jumping to conclusions on the outcome of these situations. In the article, Naughton states that as of right now, volunteers are just fact-minding or observing what is happening to bees affected by the parasitic flies.

  • brookeg-bou
    10/21/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    It's better to focus on facts rather than panicking because, panicking will get you no where and only cause stress. focusing on the facts will help you realize the straight forward things and not to panick.

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

    It is better to focus on the facts rather than start panicking because when someone starts to panic it may be harder to get them to realize the facts that come to the surface later. They also may have a hard time believing the facts and just start jumping to all sorts of conclusions.

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