A San Francisco State researcher has come up with an explanation for a stunning decline in Northern California honeybee colonies that sounds more like a plot for a science fiction movie.
According to John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, the die off has been triggered by parasites that inflect and transform honeybees into “zombie-like slaves.”
Hafernik had collected some dead honey bees that were found on campus, but then forgot about them.
“Being an absent-minded professor,” he said in a prepared statement, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them...The next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees.”
Further examination found that the fly pupae were those of the Apocephalus borealis – a parasitic fly.
Apparently, the parasite was inserting its eggs into the bodies of the bees to incubate them. As the eggs grow, the infected bees go mad, leaving their hive and taking a suicidal flight toward bright lights, Hafernick’s research team found.
When the bees die, the new parasitic flies are released.
"It's the flight of the living dead," Hafernik told the San Jose Mercury News.
Hafernick’s team has found evidence of the parasitic fly in 77 percent of the hives they sampled in the Bay Area well as the Central Valley.
Previously, researchers had found that Apocephalus borealis flies were preying on paper wasps, but the San Francisco State team’s finding were the first involving the infestation of California honeybees.
The state honeybee population has seen a decline since a high of 620,000 in 1989. In 2010, there were 410,000 active colonies in the state.
The bees are vitally important to California’s agricultural economy. The bees distribute pollen to nearly a hundred state crops including melons, sunflowers, carrots, cauliflower and almonds.
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