Scientists document new-found parasitic threat to honey bees

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2012 -Speculation surrounding the well-reported loss of honey bees and other pollinators from Colony Collapse Disease (CCD) has been attributed to interaction among a wide variety of pathogens and parasites. Now, researchers are highlighting a new factor possibly contributing to CCD, a syndrome characterized by worker bees abandoning their hives. And it sounds like something out of the famous 1979 sci-fi terror flick “Alien.”

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The researchers, based at San Francisco State University, provide the first documentation that the phorid fly Apocephalus borealis, previously known to parasitize bumble bees, also infects and eventually kills honey bees and may pose an emerging threat to North American apiculture. Phoridae is a family of small, hump-backed flies resembling fruit flies.

The researchers indicate that while most studies focus on the mortality issues related to CCD, their efforts are directed at understanding hive abandonment behavior that seems characteristic to the collapse of bee colonies in significantly higher numbers than normal in North America and Europe.

According to the research, the female A borealis flies attack honey bees and inject their eggs into the bee's stomach. Once parasitized, the honey bees leave their hives at night and die shortly thereafter. On average, seven days later up to 13 phorid larvae emerge from each dead bee and, once away from the bee, develop into pupa, the stage between a larva and an adult.

Not only has the team determined that the phorids emerging from honeybees the same as those from bumblebees, but found a connection implicating the fly as a potential reservoir of honey bee pathogens associated with CCD.

Phorid parasitism may affect hive viability since 77% of sites sampled in the San Francisco Bay Area were infected by the fly and microarray analyses detected phorids in commercial hives in South Dakota and California's Central Valley. Scientists say understanding details of phorid infection may shed light on similar hive abandonment behaviors seen in CCD. Research into CCD and efforts to maintain native pollinator populations is said to be critical to a $20-billion, pollinator-dependent fruit, nut, vegetable and field crop production industry in the U.S.



Original story printed in January 11, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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