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'Zombie' bees put East Coast beekeepers on edge

Are the Flying Dead taking their invasion to the East Coast?

Vermont beekeepers face mite infestations, extreme temperature swings and the possibility of colony collapse. Last fall, a new threat emerged: zombie bees.

Beekeeper Anthony Cantrell of Burlington discovered the "Zom-bees" in his hive in October, the first time they'd been found in the eastern United States.

John Hafernik, a professor from San Francisco State University, discovered the first zombie bees in 2008. A fly called Apocephalus borealis attaches itself to the bee and injects its eggs, which grow inside the bee, Hafernik said. Scientists believe it causes neurological damage resulting in erratic, jerky movement and night activity, "like a zombie," Hafernik said by phone Tuesday.

"They fly around in a disoriented way, get attracted to light, and then fall down and wander around in a way that's sort of reminiscent of zombies in the movies," Hafernik told ABC News. "Sometimes we've taken to calling [it], when they leave their hives, 'the flight of the living dead.'"

>> Read more trending stories 

These aren't undead bees doomed to roam for eternity. They often die only a few hours after showing symptoms, Hafernik said.

Hafernik and his team of colleagues and students have been tracking the zombie bee spread across the United States. California, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota all have confirmed zombie bees while this is the first time the bee has been found this far east, said Hafernik. The fly previously attached to bumblebees as hosts, not honeybees, according to Hafernik.

"Right now, we don't know if it's an isolated thing," Stephen Parise, Vermont agricultural production specialist, said Tuesday at the state's annual farm show.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture hopes to use trapping to investigate the threat. Parise also told the Vermont Beekeeper Association that he expected more bee deaths this year due to wild temperature swings.

University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, a top bee expert, agreed.

"It is seemingly kind of Biblical here," she said. "We're getting every conceivable kind of plague."

Leif Richardson, a doctoral student at Dartmouth College studies the interactions between plants, pollinators and parasites. Richardson said the fly involved in zombie bees could, besides using honeybees as hosts, potentially transmit viruses and pathogens.

Beekeepers "should definitely be concerned about it," Richardson said.

Hafernik said it would be a "game changer" if these flies could hatch from dead bees and complete their life cycle inside the hive, something that most worries Cantrell.

"I think it would be another nail in the coffin for honeybees in the northern hemisphere," Cantrell said.

___

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • As the House voted along party lines on Thursday to approve a sweeping package of GOP tax reforms, one peculiar part of the floor debate came when a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – took to the floor to request changes in the their party’s plan, as some highlighted unintended consequences, while others objected to the basics of the measure. Known in parliamentary parlance as a “colloquy,” the scripted exchanges between lawmakers are often done to clarify the legislative intent of a bill, or in this case, to urge action in a specific way in House-Senate negotiations. And for some Republicans in this week’s tax reform debate, it was clear they wanted some provisions altered. Some requests were specific, like Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who made the case for historic preservation tax credits, which were eradicated by the House GOP tax reform bill. “Without the credit, projects that transform communities in all 50 states, from West Virginia to Texas, to Wisconsin, simply will not happen,” McKinley said on the House floor, as he asked for Brady’s word that he would help reverse the decision. That didn’t happen. “I commit to working with him and continuing to work with him on this issue because I know the importance of it,” Brady responded, making sure not to guarantee anything in some of these floor exchanges. For Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a staunch advocate of the GOP bill, he asked the Chairman of the House Ways and Means to do more in terms of tax help for the people of Puerto Rico, whose island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. “I look forward to working with you on ideas to best serve the people of this island,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who thanked fellow GOP lawmakers for their concerns, but made no promises. For Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the issue was with a new excise tax from Republicans that would be levied on the endowments of private colleges and universities. Barr said that would harm Berea College in his district, a ‘work college’ that uses its endowment money to pay the tuition of all students. It was noted in press stories back home. Barr Fights for Berea College in Tax Reform Bill – https://t.co/YoBgs5CWvp – — BereaOnline.com (@bereaonline) November 16, 2017 “I was pleased to learn that the Senate version of the bill exempts schools with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from the excise tax,” Barr said, urging Brady to accept that position in any House-Senate negotiation. Brady said he would try. “Mr. Speaker, we will work together for a mutually accepted solution to make sure we exempt work colleges to use their endowments to provide tuition-free education,” the panel chairman responded. For Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the problem he brought to the House floor was under the heading of unintended consequences, as the GOP tax bill would subject native settlement trusts in Alaska to a higher rate of taxation. “This would make it more difficult for Alaska Native Settlement Trusts to provide long-term benefits to Alaska Natives,” Young said on the House floor, asking Brady to include provisions of a bill to remedy that and more. Unlike some of the other requests, Brady acknowledged that the GOP tax bill would “unintentionally” change the tax rate for the Alaskan settlements, agreeing to focus on this in conference as we finalize individual rate structures between the House and the Senate.” Others weren’t so lucky to get a guarantee of action, as they pressed for changes in maybe the most controversial part of the GOP plan, which limits a deduction for state and local taxes. “I am concerned about its impact on some of my constituents in Maryland who pay high state and local income taxes,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), the only Republican member of the House from that state, which would be one of the biggest losers on the SALT issue. That subject also drew two California Republicans to make the same appeal to Brady later in the debate; Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) echoed the concerns of Harris – all of them got a murky assurance of help. “I am happy to commit to working with both of them to ensure we reach a positive outcome for their constituents and families as we reconcile our differences with the Senate,” Brady said, making no promises. Other Republicans brought up education, and a provision in the GOP tax reform bill that would hinder colleges and universities from providing tax free tuition waivers and reimbursements, a matter that has drawn more and more attention in recent days. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) – whose district includes Dayton University – and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – whose district includes the University of Illinois – both appealed to Brady to make a change. “I believe that an unintended consequence of this bill would hinder middle class Americans pursuing a higher education degree in an attempt to better their lives,” Turner said. “I am worried it is going to have an impact on the custodians and the assistants in the Registrar’s Office who are just working at these institutions to be able to send their son or daughter to college,” said Davis. There was no guarantee that the provision would be changed. “I have a keen interest in this issue,” Brady told Turner and Davis. “I will work with you toward a positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.” Democrats noted the exchanges on both days of the House tax reform debate, arguing that it showed off the haphazard nature of how the bill was put together. “I also was intrigued by the colloquy where Members came to ask the leadership if they will work with them to take out egregious elements of this tax proposal,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI). “We get this sort of, “Yes, I will work with the gentleman,” answer,” Kildee added, raising his voice on the floor. “Why did you put it in in the first place?” Kildee yelled. “Why are you cutting historic tax credits in the first place? Why did you put it in in the first place? You just wrote the bill. You just wrote it,” he said. GOP lawmakers said this past week that anyone can find a reason to vote against a big bill like this tax reform plan – we’ll see in coming weeks whether these publicly voiced concerns become an issue for the final version of tax reform in the Congress.
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  • KRMG has learned Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed 'most' of the revised budget bill passed by lawmakers this week. In a statement released by her office, Fallin says, “House Bill 1019X does not provide a long-term solution to the re-occurring budget deficits, and within three months we will come back facing an estimated $600 million shortfall.' Fallin vetoed 165 of 170 sections in the bill.  She did leave intact provisions for the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Health, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Statement from the Tulsa Regional Chamber: “We at the Tulsa Regional Chamber strongly applaud Governor Fallin’s decision to veto much of the revised budget sent to her by the legislature Friday. Her courage in demanding real solutions to our budget crisis – not merely kicking the can down the road – is admirable and necessary. Oklahomans expect elected officials to be responsible stewards of public funds and navigate a sound budget for the state. We support Governor Fallin’s leadership tonight in demanding a higher standard for all Oklahomans.”
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