Science fiction has met reality as parasitic flies are turning honeybees into zombies. In a new twist to the ongoing research of colony collapse, scientists are now investigating the fly, Apocephalus borealis, which appears to parasitize honeybees by climbing into their stomachs and controlling their brains.
The process is simple but deadly. After climbing in, the parasitic fly lays eggs in the abdomen of the bee. A few days later, the infected bee stumbles out of the hive on a “solo mission to nowhere.” The bee is unable to control its own body and often makes a mad dash, flying toward light. When the bee dies, up to 13 fly larvae crawl out from the bee’s neck.
Bees from the affected hives, as well as the parasite flies, have contained genetic traces of another parasite, Nosema cerane, as well as a virus that has already been implicated in colony collapse, which causes deformed wings. This raises the possibility that these flies are spreading these additional threats to the hives.
The A. borealis fly has been at work taking over bees in three distinctly different geographical areas. There has been evidence linking colony collapse to pesticides, viruses, fungi, and mites, but even if they aren't the sole cause, it would seem the flies are a definite threat.
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