Citizen scientists needed for SF State's 'ZomBee Watch'

Jul 24, 2012
This shows a phorid larvae exiting bee. Credit: John Hafernik, San Francisco State University

The San Francisco State University researchers who accidentally discovered "zombie-like" bees infected with a deadly fly parasite want people across the United States and Canada to look for similar bees in their own backyards.

Today SF State Professor of Biology John Hafernik and colleagues from the SF State Department of Biology and the Center for Computing for the Life Sciences launched ZomBeeWatch.org, a to report possible sightings of the parasitized bees.

After being parasitized by the Apocephalus borealis fly, the "zombees" abandon their and congregate near outside lights, moving in increasingly erratic circles before dying. The phenomenon was first discovered on the SF State campus by Hafernik and colleagues, and reported last year in the research journal .

The ZomBeeWatch site asks people to collect bees that appear to have died underneath outside lights, or appear to be behaving strangely under the lights, in a container. They can then watch for signs that indicate the bee was parasitized by the fly, which usually deposits its eggs into a bee's abdomen. About seven days after the bee dies, fly push their way into the world from between the bee's head and thorax and form brown, pill-shaped that are equivalent to a butterfly's chrysalis.

This shows an A. borealis female ovipositing on bee. Credit: Christopher Quock

If it looks like their sample contains hatched , "zombee hunters" can upload photos of their sample's contents to confirm whether they have found a parasitized bee. Along with information about the location of the photographed bee, the images will help the scientists build a better map of the honeybee infection.

ZombeeWatch offers tutorials on how to become a zombee hunter, complete with step-by-step instructions for monitoring and collecting bees, building a light trap and uploading data.

Although there have been other reports of parasitized bees in Redwood City, Santa Barbara and South Dakota, Hafernik said, "what we'd really like to see is if this parasitism is distributed widely across North America."

Hafernik says he has timed the launch of the site for when the parasitized population begins its seasonal rise. "Right now is still the low season for parasitized bees," he explained, "but they will start ramping up in August. In the San Francisco Bay Area, infections peak in September through January. We hope to learn about the timing of infections in other areas of North America."

Since last year's report, Hafernik and his colleagues have embarked on an ambitious set of experiments to learn more about the plight of the infected honeybees. In one key project, the researchers, led by graduate student Christopher Quock, will tag infected bees with tiny radio frequency trackers to monitor their movements in and out of a specially designed hive. They hope the tracking system will tell them more about how the infection affects the bees' foraging behavior and why they eventually abandon their hives.

Hafernik and his collaborators are eager to learn as much as they can about the parasite, since it may be an emerging and potentially costly threat to colonies, especially those that cross from state to state to be used in commercial pollination.

The researchers hope the intense public interest in the parasitized earlier this year will encourage people to visit and contribute to the ZomBeeWatch site. "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."

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: www.ZombeeWatch.org

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Deadly fly parasite spotted for first time in honey bees

Jan 03, 2012

Honey bees can become the unwitting hosts of a fly parasite that causes them to abandon their hives and die after a bout of disoriented, "zombie-like" behavior, San Francisco State University researchers have ...

Bees 'self-medicate' when infected with some pathogens

Mar 30, 2012

Research from North Carolina State University shows that honey bees "self-medicate" when their colony is infected with a harmful fungus, bringing in increased amounts of antifungal plant resins to ward off ...

Asian bees threaten Australia

Jun 15, 2007

Four swarms of Asian bees found in Cairns, Australia, may pose a serious threat to the country's honey bee population.

'Swindon Honeybee' could save Britain's bees

Aug 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Honey bee numbers have been declining almost everywhere due to a pesticide-resistant mite called Varroa. Now a beekeeper in Britain claims to have discovered a strain of bee that destroys ...

Native bees are better pollinators than honeybees

Oct 25, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The honeybee has hogged the pollination spotlight for centuries, but native bees are now getting their fair share of buzz: They are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Finnish inventor rethinks design of the axe

(Phys.org) —Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä is the man behind the Vipukirves Leveraxe, which is a precision tool for splitting firewood. He designed the tool to make the job easier and more efficient, with ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.