Beekeeper Mark Hohn in Kent, Wash., holds a bag with a dead "zombie" bee and parasitic fly pupae.
AP photo by Ellen M. Banner
SEATTLE (AP) — The infection is as grim as it sounds: “Zombie bees” have a parasite that causes them to fly at night and lurch around erratically until they die.
And experts say the condition has crept into Washington state.
“I joke with my kids that the zombie apocalypse is starting at my house,” said Mark Hohn, a novice beekeeper who spotted the infected insects at his suburban Seattle home.
Hohn returned from vacation a few weeks ago to find many bees either dead or flying in jerky patterns and then flopping on the floor.
He remembered hearing about zombie bees, so he collected several of the corpses and popped them into a plastic bag. About a week later, the Kent man had evidence his bees were infected: the pupae of parasitic flies.
“Curiosity got the better of me,” Hohn said.
The zombie bees were the first to be confirmed in Washington state, The Seattle Times reported.
The life cycle of the fly that infects zombie bees is reminiscent of the movie “Alien,” the newspaper reported. An adult female lands on the back of a honeybee and injects eggs into the bee’s abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots.
“They basically eat the insides out of the bee,” Hafernik said.
After consuming their host, the maggots pupate, forming a hard outer shell. That’s what Hohn found in the plastic bag with the dead bees. Adult flies emerge in three to four weeks.
There’s no evidence yet that the parasitic fly is a major player in the bees’ decline, but it does seem the pest is targeting new hosts, said Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University.
Once more people start looking, the number of sightings will probably climb, Hohn said.