Fly Creating ‘Zombie Bees’ Arrive in Canada for the First Time

As if honeybees already didn't have enough to worry about.

8. 18. 16 by Andy Palma
John Hafernik
Image by John Hafernik

Beekeeper from Nanaimo, B.C. Sarah Wallbank had just recently set up a honeybee hive in her patio when she began to notice honeybees acting strangely — they were coming out at night and smashing themselves into her porch light. And then a little later, they fell to the ground and died.

Through ZomBee Watch — a citizen science project that tracks infected bees — Wallbank received information that her bees were infected with the maggots of a phorid fly, or Apopcephalis borealis, which caused the bees to act disoriented and behave like zombies.

Female phorid flies infecting a bee. Photo by: Christopher Quock

According to Dr. John Hafernik, Biology professor at San Francisco State University and founder of Zombee Watch, A. borealis is found all over North America, and targets bumblebees or yellow jacket wasps as hosts.

It is only within the past decade that the flies have been found to infect honeybees in the United States, and Wallbank’s report was the first one in Canada.

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Hafernik is concerned whether the fly’s ability to infect honeybees is a recent development or just went unnoticed until now.


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