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 Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com 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?