Alien Colony

Article excerpt

The mysterious collapse of honeybee populations during the past few years has had scientists grasping for explanations. Researchers have suggested a slew of culprits including habitat loss, viruses, and even electromagnetic interference from cell phone signals, though the latter theory was quickly debunked. Now a new study from San Francisco State University suggests yet another possible factor--a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, that lays its eggs in the bees' abdomens.

Like a scene out of the movie Alien, the eggs eventually hatch and the newborn flies burst out of the bee, killing it in the process. Even before they hatch, the fly eggs can infect bees' brains and cause unusual behavior, such as fleeing the hive. The hive abandonment may be the primary cause of colony collapse disorder, posits a study that was published in the scientific journal PLoS One in January. Knowing they are infected by the parasite, the bees flee the hive so it won't spread. This causes the hive population to dwindle until the colony is no longer viable.

The theory was unveiled by John Hafernik, a biology professor at SF State, after he found fly pupae surrounding some dead bees he had collected and stored. Hafernik's research team found that a few days after the fly lays its eggs in a bee's abdomen, the bee exits the hive, often at night, in a curious flight to nowhere. Hafernik's team described the affected bees as zombies, flying erratically with no sense of direction. Once the bee dies, as many as 13 fly larvae crawl out of the bee's neck. …