After last year's accidental discovery of "zombie"-like bees infected with a fly parasite, SF State researchers are conducting an elaborate experiment to learn more about the plight of the honey bees.
Scientists are tagging "zombie" honeybees with tiny radio trackers to monitor their flight behavior. Credit: Chris Quock
The scientists are tagging infected bees with tiny radio trackers, and monitoring the bees' movements in and out of a specially designed hive on top of the Hensill Hall biology building on campus. At the same time, they are monitoring hives on campus and on the roof of the San Francisco Chronicle's offices for further signs of the mysterious parasite and encouraging the public to participate through a new website ZomBeeWatch.org.
After being parasitized by the Apocephalus borealis fly, the bees abandon their hives and congregate near outside lights, moving in increasingly erratic circles on the ground before dying. The phenomenon was first discovered on campus by SF Professor of Biology John Hafernik, and reported last year in the research journal PLoS ONE, with former SF State master's student Andrew Core as lead author.
It's unclear yet how big of a threat the emerging fly parasite might be to the health of honey bee colonies, or if the parasite is linked to the colony collapse disorder that has devastated honey bee colonies in the United States, say Hafernik and colleagues.
To learn more about how the parasitic fly affects the bees' behavior, the scientists have built a system to track the movements of infected bees in and out of a hive. Each bee has a set of tiny radio frequency trackers -- each no bigger than a fleck of glitter -- attached to the top of its thorax. The bees leave and return to the hive through a small tube outfitted with dual laser readers that interact with the individual trackers.
The readers, which operate in a similar way to barcode scanners in a grocery checkout lane, create "virtually a 24-hour record of bees going in and out of the hive to forage," said Christopher Quock, an SF State master's biology student working on the hive's design together with bee keeper Robert MacKimmie.
Knowing exactly when bees leave--and whether they come back--is important for understanding how and when the parasites might cause the bees to abandon their hives, Quock explained. The original study found bees disoriented and dying at night, for instance, but the researchers aren't sure whether the infected bees only leave their hives to fly in the dark.
Quock's challenge has been to create a hive design where the bees "still have room to do their normal behavior." To get a unique identification and time stamp for each bee, he said, the insects have to pass one at a time under the laser readers through a narrow passage.
Quock, who began work on the bees as an undergraduate, has also been perfecting a method for studying infected bees in the lab. "Hopefully in the long run, this information might help us understand how much of a health concern these flies are for the bees, and if they truly do impede their foraging behavior," he said. "We also want to know whether there are any weak links in the chain of interactions between these flies and honey bees that we could exploit to control the spread of this parasite."
In addition to understanding how parasitism affects foraging behavior, Andrew Zink, SF State assistant professor of biology and Quock's advisor, said that the tracking project might eventually shed light on how the infected bees behave inside the hive. "We are also interested in knowing if parasitized foragers are the recipients of aggression by other workers, for example if they're expelled from the hive, or if parasitized foragers behave in ways that disrupt hive productivity."
If enough of the parasitized bees do the wrong "waggle" dances to send unparasitized foragers off in the wrong directions for food, or distract unparasitized foragers through antagonistic interactions, the hive's productivity could falter. Combined with the premature deaths of the infected foragers, Zink said, these within-hive effects "would represent a two-fold cost of fly parasitism for the hive."
The radio tracking study "could give us a hint" as to why parasitism alters bee behavior, Hafernik said. "It might just be that having a maggot in the back is uncomfortable."
The PLoS ONE study was heavily covered in the media and some unusual outlets. "Our study got picked up on zombie discussion boards, and zombie blogs," Hafernik recalled. "And for the most part the discussion was all very respectful and zombie lovers were interested."
The researchers hope to capitalize on the interest in the bees with a citizen science project called ZomBee Watch. The project encourages bee watchers to help map the parasite's spread by uploading photos of possible parasitized bees to a central website.
SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls nearly 30,000 students each year and offers nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies. The University's more than 212,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.
Nan Broadbent | EurekAlert!
A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
CWRU researchers find a chemical solution to shrink digital data storage
22.06.2017 | Case Western Reserve University
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.
New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
22.06.2017 | Life Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences