They stagger around like airborne drunks, earning the moniker “zombie bees,” before dropping dead within hours.
European honeybees are under a new threat in addition to the pesticides, mites and colony collapse already afflicting their numbers.
The latest comes from the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis, which lays eggs in the bees, causing them to fly erratically, and then die once the eggs hatch. The fly previously targeted only bumblebees and yellow jackets, according to ABC News.
It’s not the most farfetched epithet, given that the bees are indeed “possessed” once the eggs are implanted and inflict their neurological damage. The process isn't pretty.
“The tiny Phorid fly injects its eggs into the honey bee’s abdomen, where they hatch and begin to eat the bee alive from the inside,” Huffington Post described it in October 2013. “After death, the flies then crawl out of the bee's neck.”
The bee’s suffering doesn't end when the eggs hatch. That’s when the zombie-ism sets in.
"They fly around in a disoriented way, get attracted to light, and then fall down and wander around in a way that's sort of reminiscent of zombies in the movies," said San Francisco State University biology professor John Hafernik to ABC News. "It's sort of a combination of zombies and aliens mixed together.”
Infestations have been confirmed in California, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota, but now for the first time the bees have also been spotted as far east as Vermont, said Hafernik, who first discovered zombied honeybees in California in 2008. Although there’s no indication that full-fledged infestations have taken hold in Vermont, he and other bee experts are worried that it will. Hafernik co-runs Zombeewatch.org, a website that monitors their spread.
At the moment, zombie-ism is the least of bees’ problems, experts told the Associated Press.
"There's tremendous pressure on bees," said Chas Mraz, of Champlain Valley Apiaries, in business since 1931, to AP. Bees already deal with mites, viruses and pesticides, Mraz said. Further, their immune systems could be compromised by current agricultural practices that favor corn and soybeans, thereby reducing nectar and pollen supplies that are vital to bee health, he told the AP.
"It is seemingly kind of Biblical here," said bee expert May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, to AP. "We're getting every conceivable kind of plague."