Patt Morrison For January 13, 2012

Zombie bees: what’s really to blame for colony collapse?

PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Colony collapse – the sudden deaths of entire honeybee colonies – has caught the attention and imagination of many. It’s not a gradual extinction, but a sudden and sharp disappearance, or silencing.

Theories and explanations have varied, including viruses and fungi, and now there’s a new culprit in town; researchers at San Francisco State University have discovered a type of parasitic fly that may be to blame. The phorid fly lays its eggs in bees’ abdomens, causing disorientation that ultimately causes them to abandon the hive. In the words of the Associated Press, the fly “hijacks their bodies” – leaving “zombie bees” behind. Whether the fly is the sole reason for colony collapse is unknown, but the San Francisco team discovered the fly in three-quarters of the hives they surveyed.

Guests:

John Hafernick, professor of Biology, San Francisco State University; trustee and president, California Academy of Sciences; discoverer of the parasitic phorid fly

David Hackenberg, former president of the American Beekeeping Federation; owner, Hackenberg Apiaries; widely credited with discovering the bee colony collapse disorder

Kirk Anderson , co-founder of the Backwards Beekeepers, a local, chemical-free bee keeping club


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