You may or may not have heard of a zombee, which is essentially a zombified bee. Zombees are bees that have been infected by the phorid fly (Apocephalus borealis), and they are easily discernable by their strange behavioral patterns that you wouldn’t typically observe in standard bees.
Phorid flies can be found throughout the United States, and they’re known for infecting bumblebees. Unfortunately, they’ve since started attacking honeybees, which as you might come to expect, comes with some unfortunate implications given the honeybee’s importance.
After a phorid fly selects a host, it infects the bee by laying eggs inside of the insect’s abdomen. Those eggs later hatch and the larvae grow inside of the bee, safe from the elements. As the larvae develop, the bee becomes erratic, behaving in ways it usually wouldn’t.
Infected bees are known to be attracted to sources of light, leave the hive late at night, and walk around aimlessly in circles. Although they seem disoriented, they can still sting, so it’s best to keep your distance.
Not only does the phorid fly contribute to colony collapse disorder, but zombees don’t follow the same tight pollination schedule that a healthy bee would. This impacts our food supply and causes problems for the species.
Researchers are actively sampling regions of the United States to learn where bees are being infected, and much of the research is still a work in progress. In the San Francisco Bay area alone, at least 77% of beehives were infected by the phorid bee.
If we don’t think of something to keep the phorid fly at bay, then honeybee populations across the nation could have just one more factor preventing them from thriving.