This is how the zombie apocalypse begins. A parasitic infection causes victims to abandon their homes, congregate moth-like around lights, and circle erratically before dying.
For bees, this terrifying scenario is already reality. “Zombees” throughout North America are the unholy result of infection by the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis. The fly uses bees, and other insects, as a convenient larvae incubator. As gestation progresses, bees go mad–leaving hives and dancing around street lights before dying as maturing larvae slowly consume their insides.
Now researchers at San Francisco State University are using some very small technology in an effort to understand the outbreak. Tiny radio frequency trackers, about the size of a bit of glitter, are being attached to bees in areas affected by the parasite. Lasers at the entrances of hives scan these trackers, recording bee activity.
The parasite can only infect insects, so humans need not fear a zombie-fying sting. However, the loss of bees, those most efficient pollinators who make agriculture possible, is something to fear. In some areas of California, up to 18 percent of foraging bees have been found to be infected.
Of course, it was the zombie angle that excited public attention when the outbreak was first reported about a year ago. “Our study got picked up on zombie discussion boards and zombie blogs,” John Hafernik, biology professor at San Francisco State told The Daily Mail. “And for the most part the discussion was all very respectful and zombie lovers were interested.”
Researchers are encouraging the public to keep a close, but not too close, eye out for bees behaving bizarrely and report sightings at their website ZomBee Watch. On the site you can learn more about getting involved, how to make DIY bee-traps, and track the epidemic on the ZomBee Watch Map.
Photo via WikiMedia