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Bay Area Scientists Enlist Help in Search for 'Zombee' Honey Bees

Recently sighted honey bees infected with a certain parasite become disoriented, and fly in circles.

Have you noticed any strange-flying bees circling your lights outside this summer?

If so, researchers at San Francisco State want to hear from you. The researchers are studying bees that have been infected with a tiny parasitic fly, apocephalus borealis, and set up a website, zombeewatch.org, for the public to help them find, trap, and identify honeybees.

The ultimate goal is to help save the honeybees from dying from the parasite.

"After being parasitized by the apocephalus borealis fly, the 'zombees' abandon their hives and congregate near outside lights, moving in increasingly erratic circles before dying," stated a press release from SFSU.

The "Zombees" have been spotted in Redwood City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and South Dakota.

Should you come across zombees in your travels, Zombeewatch asks people to collect the ones that appear to have died underneath outside lights, or "appear to be behaving strangely under the lights," in a container. 

Signs that indicate the bee was infected by the fly (the fly deposits its eggs into a bee's abdomen), appear in the dead bees about a week later.

Graphic advisory—this is kind of gross: "after seven days after the bee dies, fly larvae push their way into the world from between the bee's head and thorax and form brown, pill-shaped pupae that are equivalent to a butterfly's chrysalis."

If that image did not deter you from wanting to join zombeewatch.org, then this may be your calling!

Upload your photos of the bees so that researchers can determine whether or not the bee is infected with apocephalus borealis.

“What we’d really like to see is if this parasitism is distributed widely across North America,” said John Hafernik, SF State Professor of Biology.

The Zombee watch is being launched just in time for what Hafernik says is the 'seasonal rise' in population of infected bees. 

“We’re sort of a mom and pop operation at this point,” Hafernik said, “but if we can enlist a dedicated group of citizen scientists to help us, together, we can answer important questions and help honeybees at the same time.”

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