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“Zombie bees” Discovered in Washington State

A beekeeper learns about a parasitic fly that can infect honey bees and make them act strangely.

(CNN) — Mark Hohn got in the bee keeping business last April. A couple weeks ago, he started reading about a parasitic fly that can infect honey bees and make them act strangely.

“I’d find some on the floor that were just barely crawling. I found some that were very erratic on the floor and couldn’t fly,” Hohn said. “They were disoriented.”

And they were dying.

Little did Hohn know his bees had become part of a sect discovered by San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik in 2008: “zombie bees.”

Hafernik discovered that a parasite was making some honey bees fly at night and lurch around erratically. Parasitic egg-laying flies were using the bees as hosts, injecting them with eggs that led to disorientation and eventually death.

Hohn bagged a few of his bees and sent them to university biologists at Washington State and San Francisco State. Scientists confirmed his bees had become part of the “zombie” contingent.

These “zombie bees” are the first to be reported in Washington. Similar cases have been seen now in California, Oregon and South Dakota.

The parasitic fly is native to North America, and only recently started infecting honey bess, which were brought to this continent from Europe.