The so-called zombie fly, also known as apocephalus borealis has been enslaving worker bees in a literal zom-bee apocalypse. While the flies have largely been restricted to the west coast, they appear to be moving east.
Fears are mounting that the parasitic flies could contribute to colony collapse disorder, or perhaps even negatively impact America’s massive honey industry.
The deadly, mind-controlling fly was spotted last year in Vermont, and has also been sighted in South Dakota and Pennsylvania. Most likely, the fly has spread elsewhere, but researchers haven’t yet found it. You can keep track of the ZomBee horde on the ZomBee Watch website.
If you find evidence of the so-called zombie flies in your area, you should report it to Zombee Watch immediately.
Besides the states mentioned above, ZomBee watch is testing samples from all over the country. Apocephalus borealis is proving to be a gruesome parasite, with flies injecting their eggs into worker bees. The bees then go crazy, abandon their colony, and eventually become food for the larvae.
Apocephalus borealis is sometimes referred to as the zombie fly, has been known for quite some time to infect wasps and bumblebees. On the West Coast, however, the flies have evolved to infect honey bees.
ZomBees and Colony Collapse Disorder
Needless to say, the zombie fly is becoming a major concern for conservationists and beekeepers, among others. Honey bee colonies have already been hit hard by the mysterious colony collapse disorder, and apocephalus borealis is yet another challenge to pile on increasingly vulnerable honey bee populations.
While honey bees are not yet considered endangered, colony collapse disorder is wreaking havoc on bee populations. Scientists often watch winter survival rates and the percentage of hives that die off through the winter months.
In recent years, the number of hives perishing over the course of the winter months has risen dramatically. Since 2006-07, roughly 28 percent of hives have died each winter, though in 2014 this number dropped to just over 23 percent.
The symptoms of CCD are especially puzzling. In most cases, the number of worker bees in a colony rapidly drops, though the queen remains, and usually honey is in high supply.
As of right now, the zombie flies are not considered to be among the primary suspects for CCD. Certainly, however, they are not helping.
Researchers have pointed to a wide range of things as possible causes for CCD. Viruses, mites, pesticides, fungicides, and other factors have all been put forward.
Is CCD a threat to economy?
The death of honey bees could also spell trouble for the honey industry. Roughly, 115,000 to 125,000 people are bee keepers in the United States, though many of them are hobbyists. In 2013, there were 2.64 million colonies in production, and combined they managed to produce $317.1 million dollars worth of honey.
For now, neither the zombie flies, or the larger issue of CCD are bringing down the industry. In fact, in 2013 the number of colonies actually increased by 4 percent compared to 2012.
Still, CCD is big enough of a worry that the USDA has set up a steering committee, and is pouring resources into the issue. As apocephalus borealis spreads east, it soon could find itself gaining increasing attention from the USDA and other experts.
Either way, both zombie flies and the larger issue of CCD will be one that must be closely watched in the years to come. Experts are working to protect bees, however, and the resources being dedicated should make a difference.