WATCH: So-called ‘zombie bees’ have crossed the border and are now in Canada with the first infected bees found in Nanaimo. Tess van Straaten reports.
It sounds like something out of science fiction — or a bad movie — but ‘zombie bees’ are all too real.
“These bees exhibited zombie-like symptoms if you think of your classic zombie movie — moving slowly in circles looking for brains essentially,” says Nanaimo beekeeper Sarah Wallbank, who discovered the first parasitized honey bees, or zombie bees, in Canada.
“Right now the bees I’m finding affected are about eight to 20 each night,” Wallbank says, showing CHEK News the carcasses of the first ones she found.
The term zombie bee was coined in 2012 by San Francisco State University professor John Hafernik.
He was the first person to discover bees exhibiting strange behaviour , such as flying at night and congregating near lights, after being infected by a fly parasite.
“We’re increasingly finding that this parasite is infecting honeybees in a variety of places across North America,” says professor Hafernik says. “The big question is, how intense is this parasitism?”
Professor Hafernik started ZomBee Watch to track the problem and with the help of beekeepers and almost 3,000 citizen scientists, they’ve found infestations across the United States.
Fly that infects zombie bees very common in Canada
The fly responsible, apocephalis borealis, is common in Canada so experts aren’t surprised it spread here.
But how it infects unsuspecting honeybees is pretty gruesome.
“The female fly lays the egg into the living bee where then the larva hatches out and starts to eat the bee from the inside while the bees still alive,” Wallbank says.
It causes the bees to abandon their hive and die.
A few days later, fly larvae burst out of the bee and go on to infect more bees.
There’s no known cure but light traps can catch infected bees to stop the fly larvae from spreading.
“One of the great fears that we don’t have an answer to right now is can a fly actually get into the hive?” Wallbank asks. “The worst-case scenario is that fly parasitizes the queen and then the queen dies and then the hive is lost.”
A scary thought, considering a third of the food we eat comes from the pollination of bees.