While the sight of a bee may freak some people out, it gladdens a farmer’s heart. That’s because bees are vital to agriculture, where they play a key role in pollinating our crops.
Unfortunately, North American bee populations have been under a lot of pressure lately. In addition to the so-called colony collapse disorder, which is still befuddling bee keepers, a type of fly known as the zombie fly (Apocephalus borealis) has taken to parasitizing honey bees in California and South Dakota, turning them into … you guessed it, zombees.
Female zombie flies will lay their eggs in live honey bees. The egg hatches into a larva (maggot), and the maggots begin feeding on the bee. After a number of days, an infected honey bee will abandon its hive during the night and fly toward a source of light, where it will die. Once the maggots finish eating the bee, they exit the bee and form pupae. In two to four weeks, the pupae hatch into adult flies, and it all starts again.
ZomBee Watch is a citizen science project sponsored by the San Francisco State University Department of Biology, the San Francisco State University Center for Computing for Life Sciences, and the Natural History Museum of LA County. The goal is to find out how much of a threat these flies are, by determining where honey bees are being parasitized. To participate, you’ll need to create a light trap near a bee hive, (carefully) collect any bees that collect near the light, and do a pupae count if zombie flies emerge, and send photos of your data to the Zombee Watch website. There’s a complete tutorial here.
In this project, it’s important to note that reporting dead bees that don’t have any pupae emerging is just as important as reporting when they do emerge. This is because it gives researchers a more accurate picture of how far the new zombie fly habit has spread, and it may also give further clues as to the cause of colony collapse disorder.
Ready to get started? Here’s where you can register.