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!
RUDN chemist tested a new nanocatalyst for obtaining hydrogen
18.10.2018 | RUDN University
Dandelion seeds reveal newly discovered form of natural flight
18.10.2018 | University of Edinburgh
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.
Silicon, a so called semiconductor, is currently widely employed for the development of components such as solar cells, LEDs or computer chips. High purity...
Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles
Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...
When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.
We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...
Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...
Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...
17.10.2018 | Event News
16.10.2018 | Event News
02.10.2018 | Event News
18.10.2018 | Life Sciences
18.10.2018 | Earth Sciences
18.10.2018 | Life Sciences