About This Project

Did you know that zombie fly parasites are capable of controlling the minds of honey bees? Although it may seem like something out of a horror movie, parasitized honey bees behave like zombies as they fly out of the hive at night and never return. Our goal as researchers is to get a better understanding of the behind this unusual change in behavior. Because honey bee colonies are undergoing unexplainable mass disappearances in both the US and Europe, it is crucial that we learn more about zombie fly parasitism in order to fully understand how they may be contributing to colony declines.

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What is the context of this research?

Parasitic organisms pose a threat to honey bee health and may play a significant role in colony declines around the world. One newly identified honey bee parasite is Apocephalus borealis, also known as the zombie fly.
Zombie flies attack honey bees and their insert eggs inside a bee’s abdomen. The eggs then hatch, into multiple maggots that develop inside the bee’s body and feed on muscle tissues.
Strangely,parasitized bees behave like zombies as they abandon the hive at night and become attracted to nearby lights. As parasitized bees arrive at the lights, they become disoriented, come down the ground and die shortly after. What is causing this unusual change in behavior remains unknown. We propose that parasitism by zombie flies alters the expression of genes involved in controlling the day and night activities of honey bees. We also aim to determine whether parasitized honey bees behave differently inside the hive before exhibiting abandonment behavior.

What is the significance of this project?

Honey bees are economically important for agriculture and play a beneficial role in natural plant ecosystems. If honey bee colonies continue to decimate, human lives will be seriously affected at the nutritional level as many of the staple foods we rely on will be less available. Without knowing how parasitic organisms influence the health and behavior of honey bees, further population declines will potentially lead to irreversible changes in agricultural production.

Our study will help reveal the impacts of phorid fly parasitism on the health and behavior of honey bees. It will also provide a physiological mechanism for hive abandonment behavior, a key symptom of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

What are the goals of the project?

1. Determine whether parasitism by zombie flies alters honey bee circadian rhythms

  • Collect parasitized and non-parasitized honey bees
  • Extract genetic material from honey bee brains
  • Perform PCR to quantify gene expression inside brains
2.Examine the extent to which parasitism by zombie flies affects the behavior of honey bee nurses and foragers
  • Set up two observation hives to monitor behaviors of parasitized and non-parasitized honey bees
3. Determine whether zombie flies prefer honey bee hosts rather than bumble bees or paper wasps (native hosts)


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Your support will help us meet our research goals and help us further understand how parasitic organisms influence honey bee declines. Because a great portion of our study requires molecular techniques such as RNA extractions and PCR, funding is needed to purchase the appropriate kits and reagents for our experiments.
Donations will help us afford the costs of maintaining three honey bee hives and two observational hives for the behavioral part of our study. Keeping our hives healthy and free of disease is critical for running experiments and having a strong control of non-parasitized bees. You will also help fund us with supplies such as bee suits, hive boxes, heat pads for the observation hives, and plastic containers for host preference experiments.

Meet the Team

Erika M. Bueno
Erika M. Bueno
Maria Jose Pastor-Infantas
Maria Jose Pastor-Infantas

Team Bio

I am graduate student at SFSU studying honey bee behavior in the presence of the zombie fly. My interest in honey bees stems from the impact that pollination has on the reproductive success of agricultural crops and wild plants. I believe it is highly important to focus research on identifying the factors that contribute to colony declines in honey bees to not only maintain agricultural practice but to ensure the existence of native plant ecosystems. In the future, I hope to continue studying honey bees to further understand how parasitic organisms such as the zombie fly alter the health and behavior of individual honey bee workers and the colony as a whole.

Maria Jose: I'm an undergraduate student at SFSU studying host preference. I first started as an assistant to another masters student who was looking at honeybee behavior when infected with A. Borealis. The more I became involved, the more questions arose in my head. The main question I want to answer is whether or not this parasitoid is host specific. Does this fly prefer honeybees over bumblebees, or other native pollinators? If in a desperate situation, will the fly oviposit on any thing near it's path? If we can find out what host it prefers, we will be a step closer to finding out what and where this predator is like in it's native habitat.

Press and Media

Learn more about why we are asking for your help here: http://nblo.gs/YTbX4

New ZomBee coverage on CBS8 news in San Diego
San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

KQED's Science video: ZomBees: Flight of the living dead by photographer Josh Cassidy has won an Norcal Emmy! Watch the acceptance video!
Check out an AP release on zombees and our citizen science project Watch it here!

Most recent zombie fly feature on health and science via The Washington Post Read more

Watch our KQED featured video: ZomBees: Flight of the living dead
Our citizen science website! Click here to learn more! Check this zombie larvae video!

Additional Information

Check out a cool video of a zombie fly larvae!

A zombie Fly inserting her eggs inside a honey bee (Photo by C.D. Quock)

The life cycle of a zombie fly! (Photo from www.zombeewatch.org)

A zombie fly maggot emerging out of its honey bee host (photo by J. Hafernik)

A female zombie fly uses a needle like ovipositor at the end of her abdomen to insert eggs in her hosts (photo J. Van Den Berg)

Project Backers

  • 48Backers
  • 102%Funded
  • $3,600Total Donations
  • $75.00Average Donation
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