By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
The sight of honey bees buzzing around flowers seems so peaceful, but… when night falls… the “zombees” come out to wander the darkly lit streets! Don’t worry, though, they’re not out for human brains. The zombie-bees have been infected by parasites – organisms that live off of other organisms without giving anything in return.
Specifically, these poor honeybees have been taken over by parasitic phorid fly babies that burst out of their bodies when they die! How gruesome! Once they are “parasitized” by the phorid flies, the bees abandon their hive homes to mindlessly buzz around lights at night before falling to the infection.
San Francisco State University researchers have been tracking these zombees as part of their ZomBee Watch web-based project, ever since 2011 when SF State Professor of Biology John Hafernik’s team first found the parasitized creatures.
With the help of “citizen scientists,” regular people like you and me who can take photos and report our own findings, Hafernik is excited to learn more about these undead honey-drinkers. “This finding is also a great example of the power of citizen science to make important contributions,” he explains. As winter draws near, Hafernik says the window of opportunity for observing the zombees is closing.
So, if you happen to notice any strange bees grouping around streetlights at night or lying dead on the ground, be sure to send in your information to ZomBee Watch. Over 100,000 people have visited the website, and 1,500 zombie hunters have already registered to submit their data!
Images courtesy of San Francisco State University and ZomBee Watch.