Photostory: Zombie effect on bee populations prompts thesis study
Despite recent efforts, honey bees are experiencing a rapid decline in population caused by the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis.
The microscopic fly, often referred to as the zombie fly, begins the death sentence of the bee by injecting its eggs into the abdomen of a living bee. The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on the insides of the bee, causing it to lose control of its body.
Biology major Maria José Pastor is an undergrad at SF State who specializes in apiology, or the study of honey bees. She is assisting graduate student Erika Bueno with her master’s thesis that focuses on the effects of the zombie fly on the circadian rhythms and behavior of honey bees.
Once the bee dies, the larvae crawl out of the bee’s neck, metamorphose to pupae and emerge as flies to repeat the cycle, explains Pastor.
Recent reports of slow declines in bee populations have also been attributed to impaired protein production, changes in agricultural practice, or unpredictable weather. The deterioration, known as colony collapse disorder, or CCD, was said to have affected the bees where the A. borealis parasite was first discovered.
It has been less than a decade since professor John Hafernik recognized A. borealis as a threat to the honeybee society and there are still several hypotheses that scientists are suggesting about the dilemma.
“There are so many unanswered questions and as much as that is a pain and scary, it’s still really interesting. It’s the depth of just —‘What is this?’ ‘What is that?’ ‘Why is this happening?’ — and I think that is what’s most interesting about this project,” said Pastor.
Honeybees provide the earth with much more than just honey and beeswax. They are the essential building blocks in the continuation of agricultural systems around the world.