Date: December 11, 2005
Source: New York Times
Abstract: Just as dogs preceded humans in making the first risky voyages into space, a new generation of canines has now made an equally path-breaking trip - from life to death and back again.
In a series of experiments, doctors at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh managed to plunge several dogs into a state of total, clinical death before bringing them back to the land of the living. The feat, the researchers say, points the way toward a time when human beings will make a similar trip, not as a matter of ghoulish curiosity but as a means of preserving life in the face of otherwise fatal injuries.
The method for making the trip is simple. The Safar Center team took the dogs, swiftly flushed their bodies of blood and replaced it with a relatively cool saline solution (approximately 45 to 50 degrees) laced with oxygen and glucose. The dogs quickly went into cardiac arrest, and with no demonstrable heartbeat or brain activity, clinically died.
There the dogs remained in what Patrick Kochanek, the director of the Safar Center, and his colleagues prefer to call a state of suspended animation. After three full hours, the team reversed their steps, withdrawing the saline solution, reintroducing the blood and thereby warming the dogs back to life. In a flourish worthy of Mary Shelley, they jump-started their patients' hearts with a gentle electric shock. While a small minority of the dogs suffered permanent damage, most did not, awakening in full command of their faculties.
Of course, the experiments were conducted not to titillate fans of horror films but to save lives. Imagine a stabbing victim brought to the emergency room, his aorta ruptured, or a soldier mortally wounded, his organs ripped apart by shrapnel. Ordinarily, doctors cannot save such patients: they lose blood far more quickly than it can be replaced; moreover, the underlying trauma requires hours of painstaking repair. But imagine doctors buying time with the help of an infusion of an ice-cold solution, then parking their patients at death's door while they repair and then revive them.Such a day may soon be at hand. Assuming the financing materializes, the Safar Center will coordinate human trials in the next two years (using patients who, after arriving at a trauma center, suffer cardiac arrest from massive blood loss). Risky? Yes. But as the dogs of the Safar Center can attest, far better to buy a round-trip than a one-way ticket when visiting the land of the dead (New York Times, 2005).
Title: Zombie Animals And The Parasites
That Control Them
Date: August 4, 2008
Source: Discover Magazine
Abstract: It might sound like something out of sci-fi, but plenty of parasites can control the minds of caterpillars, roaches, crabs, and maybe even us. In many cases, scientists don't know exactly how these creatures achieve mind control.
This spider, Plesiometa argyra, is an expert builder of perfectly round webs. But with one sting, a parasitic wasp can take over its mind.
The wasp deposits its larvae inside the spider's body, along with a new blueprint--instead of building its web, the spider spends the last night of its life constructing a silk cocoon, which becomes a home for its killers.
When the silk sack is done, the larvae kill the spider. Then they take
up residence in the cocoon, suspended safely above the predators of the
Turn over a piece of wood in your yard and you might find pill bugs on the bottom, hiding from birds who consider them a tasty treat.
Parasitic spiny-headed worms that live in pill bugs, however, need the birds to find them: While the worms grow up inside their pill bug hosts, they can't reproduce there. Instead, they need to be in the belly of a starling.
To achieve this goal, the worm gets control of the bug's brain and makes it crawl out into the open. When a bird gulps down the pill bug, the parasite can move through another step of its life cycle.
If you never thought you'd feel bad for cockroaches, consider this: The green jewel wasp can perform brain surgery on a cockroach, turning it into a living zombie.
The tropical wasp injects venom that blocks octopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with alertness and movement. Once the roach is its slave, the wasp plants its own larvae inside the roach's body, and the larvae eat the roach from the inside out.
So why go to all the trouble of mind control? It's a matter of timing: The wasp larvae need a week to mature, and the adult's wasp venom keeps the zombie cockroach helpless but alive for that period.
A parasitic wasp called Glyptapanteles employs the same cruel strategy as the jewel wasp, but it plants its larvae inside a caterpillar rather than a cockroach.
This case, however, has another bizarre twist: the wasp larvae make the caterpillar their bodyguard. As the larvae emerge from the caterpillar and attach themselves to a nearby plant, the caterpillar watches over the larvae and attacks anything that tries to get near them.
Scientists studying this arrangement have found that one or two larvae stay behind in the caterpillar. It's possible that the stragglers secrete some kind of chemical to control the mind of the poor caterpillar, which is already partially eaten.
The Ant with the Red Rump
This case involves an impressive bit of parasitic opportunism rather than mind control, per se.
Like the worms in pill bugs, nematodes in this ant need to get inside birds to continue their life cycle. But rather than making the ant wander out into the open, the nematode puts a bright "come eat me" sign on its body.
The rump of an infected ant turns bright red, which makes it resemble the red and orange berries that grow on many rainforest plants. Then birds that normally wouldn't eat the ants gobble them up, allowing the nematode to reach its new host.
A snail's antennae are not usually decorated in colored, pulsating ribbons. So when one is possessed by a distome named Leucochloridium paradoxum, it's not hard to tell.
Like the nematode in ants, the parasite is just trying to get attention. And its light show gets plenty of it; check out a video on this site.
Birds that see the snail's pulsating antennae swoop down and bite them off, only to contract the parasite themselves. The distome's eggs pass out of the bird through its droppings, which get back into the snail when it eats them, and the cycle continues.
Possessed by a Barnacle
That orange blob you see is Sacculina carcini, one of the bossiest barnacles around.
A female Sacculina begins life adrift in the sea, but when the parasite picks up a crab's scent, it sneaks inside the crab's shell and makes itself at home. Once attached, the barnacle sends root-like tendrils all throughout the crab's body.
Those tendrils allow the parasite to draw nutrients from the crab--and take over its mind. From then on, the crab lives only to serve its master: it no longer molts, mates, or re-grows broken appendages, because those activities would take energy away from the barnacle. And when the parasite is ready to reproduce, the crab--even a male one--will care for the barnacle larvae as its own.
Controlling the Smartest Brain of All
Humans might not be exempt from the mind control of parasites, either. Half of us, scientists say, carry the parasitic protozoa Toxoplasma gondii. And once we have toxoplasma in our bodies, we carry it for life.
The rate of infection can vary wildly from country to country; only three percent of South Koreans have are infected by toxoplasma,while as many as 80 percent of French people are carriers. The Centers for Disease Control says that areas where people prefer undercooked meat, like France, or have stray cats running around, like Central America, are rife for infection.Though the parasite's main host is the cat, it can live in thousands of warm-blooded species (and we're on the list). Toxoplasmosis, researchers have found, might make people more likely to be schizophrenic, and can change personality in subtle ways. One researcher found that infected men were more aggressive and jealous, women were more outgoing, and perhaps most seriously, both had slower reaction times and were in more traffic accidents (Discover Magazine, 2008).
Title: Zombie Creatures: What Happens When Animals Are Possessed By A Parasitic
Date: October 30, 2009
Source: Scientific American
Abstract: A spider, seemingly possessed, spins an uncharacterisitic web—just before wasp larvae nesting on its abdomen suck the last nourishing juices from the spider's dying body and make a cocoon in the weird web.
A worm gets into the brain of a shy, shade-loving snail, compelling it to crawl out of its safe home and into the open where it gets attacked by a bird—which is destined to be the parasite's next host.
Creepy tales like these are happening all over the animal kingdom, and not just on Halloween or under a full moon. Some organisms have taken evolutionary advantage to a whole new level, achieving success by insidiously—and still quite mysteriously—changing the behavior of another animal against its will.
Although not undead in the strictest sci-fi definition of "zombie," these captive creatures nonetheless behave as if possessed by a force from beyond. That force, however, is often controlling them from the inside, making the unfortunate hosts do deadly things.
In the case of the spooked spider (Plesiometa argyra), a parasitic wasp (Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga) lays her eggs on the spider's abdomen. Just before the larva emerges, the host spins a strange, new type of web—one that looks nothing like its usual wide nets. This silk platform, however, is perfectly suited to supporting a cocoon for the vulnerable young wasp larvae, which have been feasting on the spider's innards as they grow.
The snail-manipulating flatworm (Leucochloridium paradoxum) grows and multiplies inside the snail. Once ready to move on to its next host, the worms push up into the snail's tentacles, making them swell and squirm, mimicking the action of bugs that birds like to eat. As the snail crawls, blindly, into the sunlight, a passing bird is likely to swoop down to snatch a tasty tentacle or two. The worm-infested meal will then infect the bird, which passes it onto other snails via dubious droppings.
The mechanisms by which these parasites are commanding their hosts remain, by in large, unsolved mysteries.
"We don't know how it works, but it's obviously some type of chemical," says David Hughes, a researcher at Harvard University. "It's co-opting a preexisting behavior." As part of their normal routine, snails climb stalks and spiders spin webs, but the parasites have managed to take these particular behaviors and mold them to their own advantage—often resulting in their hosts' demise.
"Typically you have behavior that a host would do at some point in its life," addsEdward Levri, an associate professor of biology at The Pennsylvania State University in Altoona. "It's just happening at an odd, nonadvantageous time for the host, to the benefit of the parasite."
So many very different—and very bizarre—examples of parasite-controlled behavior modification have been observed that researchers have a wealth of instances to study. But it is no longer enough to document these parasites. "We have to go beyond describing behavior," Hughes says. "Now people are trying to look at how parasites are changing behavior."
Figuring this puzzle out, however, has proved to be quite difficult. "Modified organisms are more complex than we had previously believed," says Frederic Thomas, a scientist at the Genetics and Evolution of Infectious Diseases research group in Montpellier, France, and the department of biology at the University of Montreal.
With improved technology, researchers in this freaky field have been able to start sequencing the genomes and parsing proteins of some of these parasites and hosts to unravel where behavioral changes happen. "In at least some cases, some of these parasites produce neurotransmitters or hormones that mimic host hormones," Levri says.
Not all of the parasites, however, are traditional body snatchers.
"You can easily understand that a parasite can control the behavior when it is inside," Thomas says. But how do some manage to dictate a host's behavior when they're not, technically, hosting a parasite? "To me, it's like magic," he adds.
The aberrant web-spinning P. argyra demonstrates this to some extent, the parasitic wasp eggs having been laid on the outside of the spider's body. In another bizarre example of external control, a different species of wasp (Ampulex compressa) is able to control a cockroach—via an injection into its brain—and force it to enter its nest to become food and shelter for the wasp's larvae.
Even people may not be fully immune to such manipulation. Much of our modern-day behavior seems to suit the interests other species, such as hitchhiking invasive species and airline-riding viruses that hop continents in a matter of hours. But can we also be manipulated from within?
To a certain degree, yes. Perhaps the most familiar example is rabies, which can cause human hosts—like other mammals—to salivate excessively, thereby spreading the deadly virus. Researchers have even shown that malaria-infected people are more attractive to mosquitoes, which spread the infected blood to another host, according to a 2005 PLoS ONE paper.
Such pernicious parasitism is indeed widespread throughout various kingdoms. "We know it's evolved a few times," Exeter's Hughes says. So, he wonders: "Has it been different solutions to the same problem?"
In the quest to understand both how these uncanny behaviors work and how they emerged, researchers are also enlisting the help of evolutionary ecology. They are examining these behaviors on a smaller scale. For example if two larvae are growing on a controlled host, like the P. argyra orb-web spider, what happens to the spider's behavior when one is mature and the other isn't yet ready to emerge?
Some hosts have evolved to cope with frequent parasitism. For example, one beetle that is frequently killed off early by a parasite has adapted by increasing its sexual activity and producing more offspring, Thomas notes.
But the chilling question remains: How can bugs control other bugs? And in some of the more extreme examples, Hughes ponders: "How can a member of one kingdom modify the behavior of another kingdom?" Until scientists find that answer, it's all eerie action, for sure (Scientific American, 2009).
Title: 'Zombie' Fly Hijacks Bees' Bodies And May Explain Die-Off
Date: January 4, 2012
Source: USA Today
Abstract: Northern California scientists say they have found a possible explanation for a honey bee die-off that has decimated hives around the world: A parasitic fly that hijacks the bees' bodies and causes them to abandon hives.
Scientists say the fly deposits its eggs into the bee's abdomen, causing the infected bee to exhibit zombie-like behavior by walking around in circles with no apparent sense of direction. The bee leaves the hive at night and dies shortly thereafter.
The symptoms mirror colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear.
The disease is of great concern, because bees pollinate about a third of the United States' food supply. Its presence is especially alarming in California, the nation's top producer of fruits and vegetables, where bees play an essential role in the $2 billion almond industry and other crops.
The latest study, published Tuesday in the science journal PLoS ONE, points to the parasitic fly as the new threat to honey bees. It's another step in ongoing research to find the cause of the disease.
Researchers haven't been able to pin down an exact cause of colony collapse or find a way to prevent it. Research so far points to a combination of factors including pesticide contamination, a lack of blooms — and hence nutrition — and mites, fungi, viruses and parasites.
Interaction among the parasite and multiple pathogens could be one possible factor in colony collapse, according to the latest study by researchers at San Francisco State University. It says the phorid fly, or apocephalus borealis, was found in bees from three-quarters of the 31 hives surveyed in the San Francisco Bay area.
The combination of a parasite, pathogens and other stressors could cause die-off, lead investigator John Hafernik said. The parasitic fly serves as a reservoir that harbors pathogens — honey bees from parasite-infected hives tested positive for deformed wing virus and other pathogens, the study found.
"We don't fully understand the web of interactions," Hafernik said. "The parasite could be another stressor, enough to push the bee over tipping point. Or it could play a primary role in causing the disease."
Hafernik stumbled onto the parasitic fly by accident. Three years ago, the biology professor looked for something to feed a praying mantis. He found some bees outside his classroom, placed them in a vial and forgot about them. When he looked at the vial a week later, he found dead bees surrounded by small fly pupae. A parasitic fly was feeding on the bees and had killed them, he said.
The fly is a known parasite in bumble bees. Scientists used DNA barcoding to confirm the parasite in the honey bees and bumble bees was the same species.
The fly might have recently expanded its host presence from bumble bees to honey bees, Hafernik said, making it an emerging threat to agricultural pollinators. The fact that honey bees live in large colonies placed in close proximity to one another and beekeepers frequently move the hives throughout the country could lead to an explosion of the fly population, he said.
The fly, which is found all over North America, could also become a threat to native bees.
Hafernik plans to expand his research to other parts of the country and to study the parasite's impact on agriculture in California's Central Valley.Since it was recognized in 2006, colony collapse has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30 percent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, losses were about 15 percent per year from a variety of pests and diseases (USA Today, 2012).
Title: Fly Parasite Turns Honey Been Into 'Zombies'
Date: January 5, 2012
Abstract: American scientists have discovered that a fly parasite can turn honey bees into confused zombies before killing them, in an advance that could offer new clues to why bee colonies are collapsing.
So far, the parasite has only been detected in honey bees in California and South Dakota, American researchers reported in the open access science journal PLoS ONE this week.
But if it turns out to be an emerging parasite, that "underlines the danger that could threaten honey bee colonies throughout North America," said the study led by San Francisco State University professor of biology John Hafernik.
Hafernik made the discovery by accident, when he foraged some bees from outside a light fixture at the university to feed to a praying mantis he'd brought back from a field trip.
"But being an absent-minded professor, I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them. Then the next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees," he said.
Soon, the bees began to die, but not in the usual way by sitting still and curling up. These bees kept trying to move their legs and get around, but they were too weak, said lead author Andrew Core, a graduate student in Hafernik's lab.
"They kept stretching them out and then falling over," said Core. "It really painted a picture of something like a zombie."
Further study showed that bees that left their hives at night were most likely to become infected with the fly parasite, identified as Apocephalus borealis.
Once bees were parasitized by the fly, they would abandon their hives and congregate near lights, a very unusual behavior for bees.
"When we observed the bees for some time -- the ones that were alive -- we found that they walked around in circles, often with no sense of direction," said Core.
The parasite lays its eggs in the bee's abdomen. About a week after the bee dies, the fly larvae push their way into the world, often exiting from between the bee's head and mid-section.
The research, which has also confirmed that the same flies have been parasitizing bumblebees, won local excellence awards when it was first presented last year.
Next, the team hopes to find out more about where the parasitization is taking place, and whether the "zombie bees" leave the colony of their own accord or if their disease is sensed by comrades who then push them out.
Researchers plan to use tiny radio tags and video monitoring to find clues to the mystery.
"We don't know the best way to stop parasitization, because one of the big things we're missing is where the flies are parasitizing the bees," Hafernik said.
"We assume it's while the bees are out foraging, because we don't see the flies hanging around the bee hives. But it's still a bit of a black hole in terms of where it's actually happening."
Experts have theorized that the huge die-off of bees worldwide since 2006, a major threat to crops that depend on the honey-making insects for pollination, is not due to any one single factor.
Parasites, viral and bacterial infections, pesticides, and poor nutrition resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment have all played a role in the decline.The mysterious decimation of bee populations in the United States, Europe, Japan and elsewhere in recent years threatens agricultural production worth tens of billions of dollars (Discovery, 2012).
Title: Deadly Virus Increases Mosquito Blood Lust
Date: March 29, 2012
Abstract: Mosquitoes are already blood-sucking machines, but new research indicates that the dengue virus, which the mosquitoes transmit to humans, makes them even thirstier for blood.
The virus specifically turns on mosquito genes that make them hungrier for a blood meal; the activated genes also enhance mosquitoes' sense of smell, something that likely improves their feeding skills. The result is a mosquito better able to serve the virus by carrying it more efficiently to human hosts.
"The virus may, therefore, facilitate the mosquito's host-seeking ability, and could — at least theoretically — increase transmission efficiency, although we don't fully understand the relationships between feeding efficiency and virus transmission," study researcher George Dimopoulus, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement. "In other words, a hungrier mosquito with a better ability to sense food is more likely to spread dengue virus."
The virus doesn't hurt the mosquitoes that carry it, a specific species called Aedes aegypti, but it lives in them. When the mosquito bites a human, it spreads the deadly disease through its saliva. More than 2.5 billion people live in areas where dengue fever-infected mosquitoes live. The World Health Organization estimates that between 50 million and 100 million dengue infections occur each year.
The researchers analyzed the mosquito genes before and after being infected with the virus, finding changes in 147 genes. These post-infection genes make proteins that are involved in processes that include virus transmission, immunity, blood feeding and host seeking, they found.
"Our study shows that the dengue virus infects mosquito organs, the salivary glands and antennae that are essential for finding and feeding on a human host," Dimopoulus said. "This infection induces odorant-binding protein genes, which enable the mosquito to sense odors."
"We have, for the first time, shown that a human pathogen can modulate feeding-related genes and behavior of its vector mosquito, and the impact of this on transmission of disease could be significant," Dimopoulos said.
This is just one of many recent examples of a parasite taking control of an animal for its own benefit. Other examples include a fungus that turns ants into zombies and a virus that causes caterpillars to dissolve and then rain virus particles down on other potential hosts.The study was published today (March 29) in the journal PLoS Pathogens (LiveScience, 2012).
Title: Cat Litter Parasite Linked To Suicide Attempts
Date: June 3, 2012
Source: U.S. News
Abstract: Cat ladies may be more likely to attempt suicide. Women infected with the common cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which lurks in litter boxes, may suffer undetected brain changes that lead to personality changes and even mental illness. That's according to a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The parasite, excreted in cat feces, also spreads through undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables. Pregnant women have long been warned to avoid the parasite, because they can pass it onto their fetus, causing brain damage or stillbirth. In the new study, researchers found that women infected by T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to try to take their own lives than those who were not affected. They were also more likely to try to commit suicide violently—with a gun, sharp object, or by jumping, Time reports. Suicide risk increased with the levels of T. gondii antibodies found. "We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies," study author Teodor Postolache, an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a press statement.
Try These Out-of-the-Box Fitness Classes
Push-ups and squats in an airless, unforgivingly bright room? Huffing and puffing and sweating next to 25 strangers? The fitness classes of yesterday, maybe. But those are practically archaic by now. Hello, slithering, gravity-defying routines, party music, and flashing lights. Some classes are hybrids of old and new exercises; others are high-intensity variations on the norm. All will boost your fitness. U.S. News highlights some of the most out-of-the-box options:
1. Aerial dance. Always envied Cirque du Soleil performers? Stop at Heliummm Aerial Dance and Entertainment in New York. You'll learn the tricks of aerial dance, while giving your arms and abs a workout. The bulk of your time will be spent hanging from and climbing up silky fabric that dangles from the ceiling. "It translates into other areas of your life, too," says event producer and performer Heather Hammond. "Once you've overcome the fear of hanging upside down, you feel like a million bucks. You've just done something death-defying. It's a physical, mental, and emotional challenge." And there are no age constraints: Heliummm clients range from age 7 to 72.
2. Burlesque dancing. You'll learn the art of the slow tease by shimmying your shoulders and wiggling your hips. At some schools, you'll also learn how to walk in heels to optimize your appearance, how to improve your posture, and how to lure others via eye contact. Other moves you'll master: bumps, grinds, and chair dancing. Classes aren't for the shy or delicate, though, instructors say: You'll be working hard and getting on your hands and knees.
Short of going barefoot, nothing conjures the free spirit of summer like sandals. But given the way we treat our feet—whether we're running marathons or home from work and in shoes that pinch, press, and blister—it's no wonder they need grooming before flaunting.
Fact: Your feet require some TLC. More facts: Salon pedicures can be rife with risks. In fact, some foot baths might as well be renamed cesspools, hotbeds of germs that can lead to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Not to sound biblical, but customers have gone home with boils. Unsanitary tools aren't much better, and can spread infections such as hepatitis.
So the next time you treat your toes to a pedicure, follow these tips for feet as happy as they are healthy.
1. Shun the razor. Never, ever let a nail technician put a razor to your feet and be wary of doing so yourself. The practice can lead to permanent damage along with upping your risk of infection through cuts and the possible transference of blood between customers. Callouses provide cushioning between you and the ground, and removing too much of the toughened skin can make it hurt to walk. A much gentler option is to soften your feet with a pumice stone, foot file, or exfoliating scrub, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).2. Don't cut corners. Go for a shape that's square, not oval. Round toenails are more likely to dig into skin, causing painful ingrown toenails, says Hillary Brenner, a Manhattan-based podiatric surgeon and an APMA spokesperson (U.S. News, 2012).
Title: Washington State’s First ‘Zombie Bees’ Reported; Parasite Causes Bees
To Fly Erratically, Die
Date: September 24, 2012
Source: Washington Post
Abstract: 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 of his 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.
San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik first discovered zombie bees in California in 2008.
Hafernik now uses a website to recruit citizen scientists like Hohn to track the infection across the country. Observers also have found zombie bees in Oregon and South Dakota.
The infection is another threat to bees that are needed to pollinate crops. Hives have been failing in recent years due to a mysterious ailment called colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly die.
The life cycle of the fly that infects zombie bees is reminiscent of the movie “Alien,” the newspaper reported. A small 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 looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. 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.
“It may occur a lot more widely than we think,” he said.
That’s what Hafernik hopes to find out with his website, zombeewatch.org. The site offers simple instructions for collecting suspect bees, watching for signs of parasites and reporting the results.
Once more people start looking, the number of sightings will probably climb, Hohn said.“I’m pretty confident I’m not the only one in Washington state who has them,” he said (Washington Post, 2012).
Title: State's First Case Of 'Zombie Bees' Reported In Kent
Date: September 25, 2012
Source: Seattle Times
Abstract: The first confirmed case of "zombie bees" in Washington state has been found by a Kent beekeeper. Discovered in California in 2008, the bees are infected by a parasitic fly that causes the bees to lurch around erratically before dropping dead.
Mark Hohn didn't pay much attention to the dead bees scattered outside his shop when he got home from vacation a few weeks ago. He just pulled out a leaf blower and blasted away the mess.
It took him a few days to realize he had an invasion of the living dead on his hands.
"I joke with my kids that the zombie apocalypse is starting at my house," said the novice beekeeper. The dead and dying honeybees from Hohn's 1.25-acre spread in Kent are the first in Washington confirmed to be infected by a parasitic fly that causes the bees to lurch around erratically before dropping dead.
The discovery expands the range of the so-called "zombie bees" first discovered in California in 2008 by San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik. Through his website ZombeeWatch.org, Hafernik is recruiting a network of citizen scientists, like Hohn, to help determine how widespread the parasite is and whether it is contributing to the demise of bee colonies across the country.
"We really would like to get more samples from Washington and from all over," Hafernik said.
Unlike healthy bees, which spend the night tucked up in their hive, infected bees fly after dark and tend to congregate at lights. Hohn noticed bees buzzing around the light in his shop, flying in jerky patterns and finally flopping on the floor.
He remembered hearing about the zombie bees, so he collected several of the corpses and popped them into a Ziploc bag. "Curiosity got the better of me," he said.
The fly's life cycle is gruesomely reminiscent of the movie "Alien" — though they don't pose a risk to people. Adult females, smaller than a fruit fly, land on the backs of foraging honeybees and use their needle-sharp ovipositors to inject 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 looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. When Hohn looked in his Ziploc bag a week later, he saw several pupae — the smoking gun evidence that his bees were infected. He's still waiting for the first adult flies to emerge from the shells, a process that takes three to four weeks.
It's hard to know what effect the parasite is having on his hives, Hohn said. "I don't really have a way to quantify how bad it is, which is the scary part."
In a twist on the typical horror-movie plot, it's the parasite that's native to North America, not the bees. Honeybees were imported by European settlers. The flies, called Apocephalus borealis or scuttle flies, are common coast to coast. But until Hafernik picked up dying honeybees outside his San Francisco laboratory four years ago, the flies had never been known to infect anything but bumblebees and certain types of wasps.
Since then, he and his army of observers have found infected bees throughout western California and Oregon — and now in at least one spot in Western Washington. Nearly 80 percent of hives in the San Francisco Bay Area are infected. There's also one report from South Dakota.
Bee populations have plummeted in recent years, threatening crops that rely on the insects for pollination. Scientists attribute the decline to a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder. No one knows the exact cause, but researchers have found a variety of mites and viruses that afflict colonies. Pesticides probably play a role, too, said Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University. His research has shown how the chemicals accumulate in developing bee larvae, shortening the insects' lives.
Sheppard has some of Hohn's zombie bees in his lab for further study.
There's no evidence yet that the parasitic fly is a major player in the bees' decline, but it does seem that the pest is targeting new hosts, Sheppard said. "It may occur a lot more widely than we think."
That's what ZombeeWatch hopes to find out. The site offers simple instructions for collecting suspect bees, watching for signs of parasites and reporting the results.Once more people start looking here, the number of sightings will probably climb, Hohn said. "I'm pretty confident I'm not the only one in Washington state who has them," he said (Seattle Times, 2012).