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Bees being turned into 'zombies' by parasite
The parasite makes the bees flee their hives and then walk round and round in circles before dying. It also makes them seek out bright lights.
The parasite lays its’ eggs inside the abdomen of the honey bee. About a week after the bee dies, the pupae emerge from the throats and heads of the dead bees.
Scientists discovered the parasite by accident but they believe it may help them discover what is causing colony collapse disorder which is devastating honey bees in Europe and America cutting some populations in half. Biology professor John Hafernik, of San Francisco State University, discovered the parasite by accident when collecting bees. Researchers found that after being invaded by the parasite, the bees abandon their hives in what is literally a flight of the living dead to congregate near lights.
“When we observed the bees for some time — the ones that were alive — we found that they walked around in circles, often with no sense of direction,” said Andrew Core, an San Francisco State graduate student from Hafernik’s lab who is the lead author on the study in the journal Plos One.
Bees usually just sit in one place, sometimes curling up before they die, said Core. But the parasitised bees were still alive, unable to stand up on their legs.
“They kept stretching them out and then falling over,” he said. “It really painted a picture of something like a zombie.”
Different theories from a virus to a fungus or the influence of pesticides have been put forward for causing colony collapse disorder. Professor Hafernik believes the parasite, called Apocephalus borealis, may be changing the bees’ “body clocks.”
The scientists don’t know if the bees with parasites are leaving the hives of their own free will or are being thrown by others who realise they have become different.
Bees that left the hives at night were more likely to bear the parasite than those who foraged during the day, the researchers found. Bees are very well studied so scientists believe the parasite is a new threat. It is similar to one being found in bumblebees.