Zombie Bees Spread To Washington State

By Amir Khan on September 26, 2012 11:19 AM EDT

Short-Haired Bumblebee
Zombies are spreading across the United States -- but not the kind you think. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Zombies are spreading across the United States -- but not the kind you think. Zombie bees, honey bees that are infected by tiny flies, have spread to Washington State, where they have the potential to wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

"They basically eat the insides out of the bee," John Hafernik, a San Francisco State University biologist, told NBC News.

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Hafernik first discovered zombie bees in California in 2008, and now asks everyday people to track them through a website.

Bees that are infected with the flies exhibit erratic behavior, including abandoning their hives and flying in strange patterns before dying.

Beekeeper Mark Hahn noticed bees lurching about outside his home in Washington State. He collected several corpses and placed them in a plastic bag. A week later, he noticed the pupae of the parasitic flies, indicating that the bees were infested. It was the first case of zombie bees in Washington State.

"I joke with my kids that the zombie apocalypse is starting at my house," Hohn told NBC News.

What's puzzling scientists is why the infected bees are showing up now, when the parasitic fly was first discovered in 1924.

"We don't really know if this is something the flies have figured out recently or if it's been under the radar," Hafernik said.

However, he doubts that beekeepers and scientists have gone so long without noticing the erratic behavior.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, 78 percent of hives are affected by fly, with more beekeepers seeing the flies across the Pacific Northwest. Evidence of infection has also been seen in New York, Colorado and Minnesota.

"It could be that not all honey bee strains are susceptible to the fly at the same rate - there could be some genetics among the honeybees that could be brought to bear," Hafernik said.

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