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article image'Zombie bees' found in Washington state for first time

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By Leigh Goessl     Sep 25, 2012 in Science
It has been confirmed an amateur beekeeper in Washington state has found "zombie bees" on his property. This is the first time "zombees" have been identified in Washington state.
At first the man didn't realize the bees were infected by the condition caused by parasitic flies, however, he collected some samples and has been tracking to see what happens. So far, he is seeing classic signs of the strange phenomenon.
According to The Seattle Times, Mark Hohn, who is described as a novice beekeeper, came home from vacation recently and found a number of dead bees on his property. It wasn't until a few days later he realized the bees had been turned into "zombie bees".
Hohn had observed the bees acting erratically and acting out of character. The bees were flying around after dark, flying in "jerky patterns", seeking out light sources, and then "flopping on the floor" before eventually dying. All of these are characteristics of a condition known as "zombie bees", which has been observed in recent years in several west-coast regions.
Discovered by San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik in 2008, the condition is brought on by parasitic flies that land on the bees and inject their eggs into the bee's abdomen. Eventually the flies hatch and lead to the demise of the infected bee.
"They basically eat the insides out of the bee," Hafernik said.
Hohn remembered reading about the "zombie bees" and collected samples in plastic bags. After a week, he saw pupae, which substantiated his belief that the bees on his property were infected. It is too early for any adult flies to emerge to document this stage from the bees he's collected.
The zombified bees, have been primarily found in the states of California and Oregon, however, according to a map tracking the infected bees, other areas have found suspicions of infected bees and are currently undergoing sampling. The Seattle Times reported 80 percent of hives in the San Francisco Bay Area are infected.
Scientists are actively watching this phenomenon due to the decline of bee colonies that has been occurring across the U.S. The role of the parasitic flies is not fully known if/how the flies are contributing to what's become known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Bees are not the only insects to be infected and turned into a "zombie". In 2011, "zombie ants" were found in Thailand. These ants, which reside deep in Thailand's rainforests, were found to be infected by a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps. Like the bees, the ants moved around in an erratic fashion before they eventually die.
It is believed that the zombie bee problem is more widespread than is currently confirmed.
Hohn told the Seattle Times, "I'm pretty confident I'm not the only one in Washington state who has them [zombie bees]."
Earlier this month, National Geographic reported Hafenik and other researchers are using technology to tag infected bees to track behaviors.
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