Zombie bees have invaded Vermont hives, and this is the first time they have been found in the eastern part of the United States. Anthony Cantrell, who is a beekeeper and lives in Burlington, VT found the zombies in his hives back in October of 2013, and he is extremely worried. He was able to handle infestations of mites, temperatures swings, even the prospect of some colonies collapsing but not something like this.
John Hafernik, who is a professor at San Francisco State University, was the first person to discover the zombies back back in 2008. They are created when a fly known as Apocephalus borealis grabs on to honeybees and inserts its eggs, which then grow inside the insect, the professor explained. Scientists think that this event produces neurological damage which results in unpredictable, erratic movements and night activity, “which are just like zombies”, added Hafernik. However, they are not fated to have to fly around for an eternity. The zombie bees usually die within a couple hours after they begin exhibiting symptoms.
Professor Hafernik and his group of both colleagues and students have tracked the spreading of zombie bees across the entire United States. Washington, Oregon, California and South Dakota are states that have all had confirmed sightings of zombie bees, but this is the very first time that the bee has been discovered so far east. The fly formerly went after bumblebees to be hosts for their eggs instead of honeybees. As of this time, it is unknown if the appearance was a onetime deal or not, stated Stephen Parise, who is a Vermont agricultural specialist.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is hoping to be able to use trapping in order to explore the threat more deeply. Parise explained that he also was expecting to see more honeybee deaths in 2014 because of extremely fluctuating temperature swings. However, Chas Mraz, who works for Champlain Valley Apiaries, believes that viruses, pesticides and mites are much larger health problems for honeybees. By there being a shortage of pollen and nectar and pollen in a shifting agricultural ecosystem which seems to be mostly focused on soybeans and corn, this could greatly affect the immune systems of bees. There is such pressure on bees right now, stated Mraz. The apiary where he is employed has been in business since just after 1930 and houses over 1,000 colonies. At the bee population peak population and in good weather, this can mean over 60 million bees.
May Berenbaum, a leading expert on bees, and who is an entomologist at the University of Illinois, agrees. She states that with bees it seems almost Biblical. They have to endure every kind of plague that is conceivable. But by the way that the bee populaces have become so standardized and the way they are shipped all over the country to help aid in pollination that the Eastern invasion of the zombie flies makes complete sense. She added that the zombie bees are most definitely not good news at all. There are numerous parasites and pathogens that beekeepers are aware of that affect bees, now things are coming in that researchers are not even sure of. New studies have been released this month which show that the tobacco ringspot virus has begun poisoning honeybees.
Hafernik explained that if the infecting flies start hatching from dead bees and begin their life cycle while in the hive, that it end up being just another nail placed into the coffin for honeybees who are in the northern hemisphere. The zombie bees have invaded Vermont and who knows where they will show up next.
By Kimberly Ruble