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“Zombie” Bees Confirmed In North Carolina

Is it me, or is all of the news surrounding bees always terrible? While the terrifying prospect of honey bee extinction continues to loom overhead, some recent developments have shown that maybe we don’t understand bees as well as we previously thought. For one, a new species of rock-eating bee was discovered in the American Southwest earlier this year. As if rock-eating bees aren’t scary enough, news outlets across North Carolina are now reporting the discovery of parasitized honeybees that display “zombie like behavior.”

According to Charlotte, NC National Public Radio affiliate WFAE, the “zombie bees” were spotted in the Appalachian mountain town of Banner Elk. Local beekeper Claire Kimmel discovered the zombie bees when her 6-year-old granddaughter found several dead bees scattered across her front porch:

After that, we started leaving the porch light on and we’d come out in the morning and there would be – in addition to some dead bees – there would be one or two bees walking around erratically in a circle or a figure eight.

Kimmel sent several of the bee corpses to a biologist, who confirmed them to be infected with the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis, which infests and lays eggs inside live honey bees.

The life cycle of Apocephalus borealis.

The life cycle of Apocephalus borealis.

According to ZomBee Watch, a site that tracks sightings of zombie bees, the larvae of the parasite eats live honey bees from the inside out:

Like all flies, butterflies and many other insects, Zombie Flies undergo complete metamorphosis as they mature. The begin life as an egg that hatches into a larva (maggot). The Maggots begin feeding within a live honey bee. After the maggots grow for a number of days, an infected honey bee abandons its hive during the night and dies away from the hive.

Infected bees display erratic behavior as their brains and other organs are slowly eaten by Apocephalus borealis maggots. The parasite compels the bees to leave their hives at night, leading some apiculturists to suspect the zombie fly might be accelerating a much-feared honey bee extinction event.

Apocephalus borealis maggots emerging from their (un)dead host.

Apocephalus borealis maggots emerging from their (un)dead host.

These “Zombie flies” only recently began feeding on honey bees, and have been speculated to be a cause of colony collapse disorder. Current theories still lean more towards pesticides as the cause of honeybees’ demise, however. Still, mixing zombies and bees is pretty terrifying if you ask me. Maybe moving to Tokyo and becoming a hikikomori isn’t such a bad idea after all…

I see what you did there.

I see what you did there.