Photo by Wildwise studios
Looking for a spooky Halloween costume? Look no further! Bee a Zombee this Halloween and share a cool ecological story as you trick-or-treat.
Zombie bees, or zombees, buzzing through the neighborhood on a cold Halloween night. Sounds like fiction (or a great Halloween costume!), but it’s real. While not undead, the bees are controlled by a parasite growing inside their bodies. It starts like this: A parasitic fly about the size of a fruit fly, Apocephalus borealis, lands on a bee. Quickly it deposits its eggs in cracks in the bee’s abdomen. As the eggs hatch, they migrate deeper into the bee, feeding on its muscles. As the parasite continues to grow, the bee will exhibit weird behavior. It may venture out on cold, dark nights in search of artificial light. (Why? Scientists are not sure but speculate that the parasite is controlling its host, causing it to look for a more-suitable place to complete its incubation.) Other strange behavior includes loss of normal muscle function (look for bees that are falling over or having trouble standing) or disorientation (look for bees walking aimlessly in circles).
This parasite is native to North America, although its infection of European honeybees is thought to be recent. Some have speculated that the parasitic fly may be a vector for colony collapse disorder. Our knowledge of zombees is still evolving, as this phenomenon was only discovered in 2008.
See any bees acting funny? Become a citizen scientist and record your sightings at zombeewatch.org. Place bees found near artificial light sources in a sealed container (one bee per container) and wait. Small, pill-shaped fly pupae may emerge (usually somewhere around 5-14 days later). Take a photo of your results and share with the world! One zombee was already recorded in Fortuna, CA, so they may already bee in your backyard.