Parasite may be behind beehive losses

Jan. 4, 2012 at 6:35 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. biologists say they've discovered a parasite that can turn bees into zombies and may be responsible for a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

A study at San Francisco State University shows the parasite, a tiny fly, can cause infected bees to go mad and abandon the hive in an erratic suicidal flight toward bright light.

"It's the flight of the living dead," lead investigator and biology Professor John Hafernik told the San Jose Mercury News.

The parasite has been found in bees from three-quarters of the 31 surveyed beehives in the San Francisco Bay Area, researchers said.

The parasite's eggs, deposited into the bee's abdomen, take over and cause the infected bee to wander in circles or even be unable to stand on its legs.

"They kept stretching them out and then falling over," Hafernik said. "It really painted a picture of something like a zombie."

Researchers said the parasites may be contributing to what's known as colony collapse disorder that has seen failing honeybee hives around the United States causing considerable concern in the agricultural community, which depends on bees in their role as pollinators.

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