Incidents of honey bees mysteriously taking night flights and ending up dead the morning after, add to the growing number of problems associated with bees this year.

The culprit, scientists would later find, is the parasitic Apocephalus borealis.

The Apocephalus borealis, which is becoming increasingly known as the zombie fly, has been infecting bumblebees and wasps. However, it appeared that these flies have evolved and can now infect honey bees.

Researchers found that these flies lay eggs inside the honey bees' stomachs. Once the larvae hatch, the bees show odd behaviors, including flying erratically, taking off at night and abandoning the hive before dying.

Professor John Hafernik of the San Francisco State University, who was part of the team who made a study on the zombie fly infestation, said that while this does not mean that the honey bee population is in immediate danger of extinction.

He added that the zombie fly problem can help scientists understand further the colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon affecting honey bees around the country. 

"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 said.

In the U.S., a growing number of honey bees have been found affected by the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition characterized by behaviors reflecting loss of hive abandonment and eventually death.

Scientists are still baffled over the cause of this strange event and are still unsure as to whether the zombie fly infestation is connected.

Studying it may provide valuable information on possible causes of CCD and ways to prevent the spread of the infestation to other parts of the world.

"Understanding causes of the hive abandonment behavior we document could explain symptoms associated with CCD," Hafernik said.

The thought that horror movies about zombie infestations do have a real life example is garnering much scientific and media attention, but experts assure the public that there is no real cause for alarm.

"The 'zombie' thing is a little bit sensational and some people hear that and they go right into alarm bells ringing," said Joe Naughton, a beekeeper from New York, adding that despite the alarm being raised over the thought, the US is only at the fact finding stage regarding the issue.

Right now, the decreasing bee population has several stressors and will not need the additional burden of fighting off becoming infected by zombie flies.

"We have to be cautious," said Assistant Professor Ramesh Sagili of the Oregon State University. "But I'm not alarmed that this parasite is going to create a big problem." 

Photo: Bob Petersen | Flickr

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