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You are here: Research & Tech Bee Health Fly Parasite in Honey Bees in the USA Found to Cause CCD symptoms

Fly Parasite in Honey Bees in the USA Found to Cause CCD symptoms

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Chennai, January 6, 2012: San Francisco State University professor of Biology, John Hafernik accidentally found during his research work in 2008 that honey bees in California became infested by a phorid fly, Apocephalus borealis, and abandoned their hive and eventually died. According to the San Francisco State University news Communication dated January 4, 2012, 'Honey bees can become unwitting hosts of a fly parasite that causes them to abandon their hives and die after a bout of disoriented "zombie-like" behavior, San Francisco State University researchers have found.'

Hafernik and his team of researchers in SF State University along with Los Angeles County National Hisotry Museum entomologist Brian Brown, published* their research findings in the January 3, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE.

In the paper the authors report 'that Apocephalus borealis, a phorid fly native to North America, previously known to parasitize bumble bees and paper wasps, also attacks the non-native honey bee.  The genus Apocephalus is best known for the "decapitating flies" that parasitize a variety of ant species.'

The SF State University communication further says: 'After being parasitzed by the fly, the bees abandon their hives in what is literally a flight of the living dead to congregate near lights. "When we observed the bees for some time - the ones that were alive - we found that they walked around in circles, often with no sense of direction," said Andrew Core, an SF State graduate student from Hafernik's lab who is the lead author on the study.' 'Genetic tests of parasitized hives also showed that both bees and flies were often infected with deformed wing virus and a fungus called Nosema ceranae,' the communication adds.

Following is the Public Release dated January 3, 2012 in EurekAlert on this research.

*Reference cited: Core, A., Runckel, C., Ivers, J., Quock, C., Siapno, T., DeNault, S., Brown, B., DeRisi, J., Smith, C.D. and Hafernik, J. 2012. A new threat to honey bees, the parasitic phorid fly Apocephalus borealis. PLoS ONE 7 (1): e29639. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.00296. Published:: January 3, 2012.


EUREKALERT Public Release date: 3-Jan-2012

Contact: Kristin Friedrich, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 213-763-3532

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

NHM entomologist co-authors new research on parasitic phorid fly, a new threat to honey bees

Understanding infections from flies may shed light on bee colonies' hive abandonment behaviors seen in Colony Collapse Disorder

The parasite fly, female fly ovipositing and larvae exiting beeJan. 2, 2012 - A paper to be published on January 3, 2012 in the authoritative magazine PLoS ONE, co-authored by NHM entomologist Dr. Brian Brown, reveals a new threat to honey bees and perhaps, a partial explanation for the bees' well-publicized Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome characterized by worker bees abandoning their hive. The threat is the tiny but dangerous phorid fly, which may pose an emerging threat to North American beekeeping.

The honey bee Apis mellifera has experienced recent unexplained die-offs around the world. Although catastrophic losses of honey bee colonies have occurred in the past, the magnitude and speed of recent hive losses appear unprecedented. So far, the main causal suspects have been parasitic mites, fungal parasites, viral diseases and interactions amongst them.

In this paper, the authors provide the first documentation that the phorid fly Apocephalus borealis, previosly known to only parasitize bumble bees, also infects and eventually kills honey bees - by leading them to abandon their hives at night.

Brown is a world authority on phorid flies, and blogs about the weird creatures at He has received reports of nighttime bee activity in Los Ange;es. "It seems to be concentrated near the coast," he said, "which is where our collecting has also encountered the flies."

The authors prove that parasitized honey bees show hive abandonment behavior, leaving their hives at night and dying shortly thereafter. On average, seven days later, up to 13 phorid larvae emerge from each dead bee and pupate away from the bee. Using DNA barcoding, the authors confirmed that phorids that emerged from honey bees and bumble bees were the same species.

Understanding details of phorid infection may shed light on similar hive abandonment behaviors seen in CCD. Further knowledge of this parasite could help prevent its spread into regions of the world where naïve hosts may be easily susceptible to attack.


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