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Zombie bees

A parasitic fly was recently discovered to be infesting honey bees– the press wildly extrapolated it into being the cause of CCD.  I’ve kept in touch with the researchers in San Francisco, and with beekeepers in the affected areas.  The study is ongoing.

The fly is a native parasite that normally parasitizes bumblebees and paper wasps.  It is not the species of fly introduced to control the fire ant!

The authors write:
“It is possible that A. borealis expanded its host range to include the non-native honey bee many years ago and has gone unnoticed because infected bees abandon their hive and flies occurred undetected in low densities. We believe it is more likely that the phenomenon we report represents a recent host shift and an emerging problem for honey bees.”
If this is indeed a host shift, that would be bad news. But it could simply be that we’ve just never noticed it. I’ve spoken with the large commercial beekeeper in whose operation the fly was discovered, and he hasn’t even noticed it.
In the Bay Area hives that the researchers studied, it only appeared to be a significant problem in Sept/Oct, and even then only at very low levels–only a few percent of the foragers were infected.
Local beekeepers can test for the parasite’s presence by putting an overhead light near hives at night and collecting any bees that are drawn to it. Put the bees into a jar with ventilation (coffee filter rubberbanded over the top) and allow them to die naturally (I’m using that term very loosely in this case).
Keep the jar at room temperature for a week, and check to see if fruitfly-sized flies emerge. Please let me know if you find any!

Update 5 April 2018–Get involved!  A new citizen science 4-H organization in Minnesota is now tracking reports from beekeepers who have found A. borealis in their operations.  Please contact them at ZomBeeWatch.org

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