Stark Raving Mad Bees and Nature’s Own Horror Movie

Not a bee, but a Syrphid Fly with a Fungus, but you can see how cruel nature can be. This fly was alive and still feeding.

I read a most interesting take on colony collapse disorder (CCD) from an article on January 4th on the WordPress EcoPressed site. The article was written by Bryan Walsh on Time Science Ecocentric blog, entitled Zom-Bees: How Parasitic Flies Are Turning Honeybees into the Buzzing Undead. This started my research into Nature’s own horror movie episodes.

This article was based on a reported study by San Fransisco State University citing that parasitic phorid flies ( there are about 230 genera in the Family Phoridae with 3000 species described) are turning honeybees into the flying undead, literally. The fly, (Apocephalus borealis) causes the bees to assume an altered state of erratic, suicidal behavior, rushing towards bright lights and exhibiting hive abandonment behaviors. They leave the hive at night flying uncontrollably in odd patterns, then die shortly thereafter. Seven days later, around 13 larvae (25 maggots is the record) emerge from the dead bee. The image below (C) shows the emergence.

The fly (A), Apocephalus borealis, lays its eggs inside the bee’s abdomen (B) and the larvae develop inside the bee. When it matures, it makes its way up towards the bee’s head where it will emerge just between the thorax and head, killing the bee (C). In the meantime though, the bee is rendered a bee zombie. It loses all ‘knowledge’ of its hive and flies or walks aimlessly.

This study happened by accident almost two years ago. A professor at San Fransisco State University found dead bees huddled at the base of an outdoor light fixture. He collected them for later study to find pupae near the dead bees. Examining the pupae and testing DNA, revealed them to be the same species of parasitic fly attacking bumblebees and paper wasps. What was interesting was that honeybees were a relatively recent host for this fly. Further study led to the fly being found in 77% of sampled hives in the California Bay Area. This was then extrapolated to possibly adding to the already debilitating problem of mites and fungus as contributing factors to CCD.

Estimates have hives losing between 30 and 90 percent of their bees without warning. The individual bee casualties are hard on a hive as it loses important workers when the foragers abandon, because the younger bees remaining inside the hive are forced to take their place. This upsets the entire structure of the hive as bees take on ‘new, replacement’ jobs. As if this was not a horrid enough malady for the bee, the scientists now believe that the fly is additionally a vector for deformed wing virus and Nosema ceranae.

Ironically, the phorid fly, Pseudacteon, attacks fire ants and was used in Texas in 2009 as a natural defense against the ants.  It was considered an effective classical or self-sustaining biological control to suppress these unwanted pests.

Research is continuing on the parasitic fly by tracking bees with radio tags and by video camera. They aim to discover if infected bees are also being forced from their hives by bee-mates or if they abandon the nest individually. They want to find out how the flies find the bees too since they have not observed the flies buzzing around the hive. Bees are under attack from just about everywhere it seems.

If you want to see a full-page view,  ABC news story about the accidental discovery of this by lead investigator and biology professor John Hafernik, also president of the California Academy of Sciences….. it is worth the 2 minute 54 second video view. It is a very interesting video clip.

And if you are bee geeky, here is the report in pdf form.


And what other gruesome tales of parasitic death are out there?

There is an Asian wasp that injects venom into the brain of cockroaches to control where the roach travels. The wasp proceeds to lay eggs on the host roach and its larvae then eat the roach alive. Yuck!

An Amazonian nematode invades an ant to turn the ant’s abdomen a bright berry color to attract birds. The birds eat the ant and subsequently disperse baby nematodes through their droppings. A walking neon fast food sign!

Many ladybugs fall victim to a parasitical wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, but instead of dying after the wasp deposits its eggs, the ladybug survives as a wasp larva emerges from the ladybug’s abdomen and start to weave a cocoon between the ladybug’s legs. The ladybug remains to guard the cocoon until the wasps grow and leave. Of course the captive ladybug is kaput by now.

The larvae of the wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga infects the spider Plesiometa argyra. The wasp makes their spider spin an unusual web to  support their cocoons. Now this is really brainwashing to the max.

Infected by a fungus, an ant is compelled to climb down from the rainforest canopy to the low leaves, where it clamps down on a leaf with its mandibles just before it dies.The parasite gets the insects to die hanging upside down from the leaf, and then erupts a long tree-like stalk from their heads with which it sprinkles its spores onto other ants.

And don’t forget about the plants that eat insects. Not a nice way to go for our little invertebrates. See the post on entitled Three big tips to get started with carnivorous plants in Buffalo area. Don’t worry about the Buffalo part, the information is great for all locales needing to raise the leafy meat-eaters inside.

Don’t you just love nature’s complexities?

Happy Monday!!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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22 Responses to Stark Raving Mad Bees and Nature’s Own Horror Movie

  1. Victor Ho says:

    Whoa! Enough of all this nature and doom. It seems that the erstwhile honey bee is doomed to extinction by all the processes lined up against it. 3000 fly species… and introduced in Texas… unintended consequences. We used a National Geographic guide to help identify birds at the feeder this weekend. Interestingly in the back were pages and pages of ‘accidental extinct birds.’ I can’t say why there is such a section in the guide as I have no chance to see one. And happy Monday to you as well.

  2. Interesting, but perhaps not the ideal post to read over breakfast…

    Nature is fascinating, though.

  3. elaine says:

    Poor old bees – what would we do without them

  4. Good thing I had already eaten breakfast…nature is so cool and yucky at the same time…

  5. The world of parasitic creatures is really fascinating! But I usually think of them in a beneficial sense (the braconid wasp for example). This is rather disturbing since there already so many issues the bees are facing. This will be an interesting study to follow. Thanks for kick starting my brain this early in the morning!

  6. This is very interesting! It is amazing how nature finds the oddest methods of surviving and procreating. I don’t like the loss of the bees as they are so beneficial, but I suppose this is the way of nature. I hope the mystery of bees collapse will be solved very soon.

  7. Gone Tropical says:

    I am so glad I am not a ladybug, bee or ant o_O

  8. Wow, that is so disgusting in a very intriguing sort of way. The honeybees definitely don’t need any more challenges. I wonder why this is happening now and if other stresses make them more vulnerable.

  9. b-a-g says:

    I think photo c is the most horrific section of this post. Shouldn’t have read this just before going to bed.

  10. Ida says:

    Well that certainly was intresting and yes, gross!

  11. Ugh! Nasty but also fascinating. I always leave a few tomato hornworms on my tomato plants so wasps can lay their eggs in them. I throw the rest in my platform feeder fro the birds. Mother Nature is efficient but not always nice!

  12. andrea says:

    Being in the agriculture sector, we hear and read lots of biocontrol agents mostly using the same strategies. However, i think i prefer using a smaller organism as predator for insects, unlike another insect, because it is more morbid. It is so unfortunate for the bees there, as this might later be a big problem for agricultural production.

  13. HolleyGarden says:

    It seems that every time we introduce some sort of ‘biological control’ it comes back to bite us!

  14. The parasitic behaviour in the insect world is unbelievably nauseating. Like your full on scientific confrontation with images. A step beyond my 3 monkey approach starting with hands over the eyes. Well done Donna

  15. Patty says:

    Interesting but Quite gruesome.

  16. andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i can’t see your e-add so i come in here. Are we having W4W today? haha, i miss it as i was not able to join last Dec.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, Very interesting, although I think I might have nightmares. I am not sure if I missed the answer to this question: Is there a connection between the increased incidence of this fly in California and its use to control fire ants in Texas? California and Texas are, after all, a ways apart? Have increased numbers of the phorid fly spread across that whole area of the States?

    • No, I am answering now. The species of fly is different in ants and has nothing to do with the problems honeybees face. The species affecting these bees has been around for a while in bumble bees and paper wasps I found out. This particular vector was already here. The report is based only on honeybees as a newer host. I did not find if the flies in Texas had any negative repercussions by its introduction. I did not look that hard though. Honestly, I did not want to find out if we humans made another environmental blunder.

  18. Cynthia says:

    As a beneficiary of the Texas introduction, I really hope those flies don’t target any other critters. We have seen reduced fire ants in our area, which is a very good thing. When my children were small, I had to teach them to always keep their feet moving to avoid ant bites. Being young, they would forget. Quite disturbing to look down at your toddler and see ants swarming up his legs. Not to mention money spent on ants gumming up well pumps and a/c units and other species targeted by the non-native fire ants (native ants, baby animals of all sorts, etc.).

  19. An impressively disturbing post Donna! Poor bees. I suppose they may be lucky, given how vital bee pollination is to us humans, we will invest time and money into seeking some sort of protection given those hive loss rates. Who needs “Alien” when you can look at nature in all it’s inventive yet gory detail.

  20. Uh, Donna, isn’t your new banner a little bit “racy”? 🙂

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