Saturday, 28 February 2015

Creature 151: Apocephalus borealis

Maggots which turn bees into zombies

As I was writing this I realized that after 150 days this is the first Dipteran (fly) that I have done! That is a little weird considering flies are one of the 5 super massive insect orders with over 100,000 known species. There are a fair few cool flies on my list, I guess I have just overlooked them.

 Apocephalus borealis is a tiny North American fly which is commonly called the zombie fly.

These little flies don't grow more than a few millimeters long and have  fairly boring coloration. It may look pretty innocent and harmless at first glance but to various flying Hymenopetans, this fly is more like something from a horror/sci-fi movie. Apocephalus borealis are a parasitoid fly, which means they lay their eggs inside other animals and their juveniles feed off the host. The females are incredibly aggressive towards potential hosts attacking them on the abdomen. It only takes a few seconds for her to lay her eggs inside the poor bee and then the horror begins. After the eggs hatch the maggots will make their way to the bees brain where they proceed to alter its mind. The bee then stop leaving its nest during daytime, and only leave at night. Its flight becomes erratic in their flight and their walking staggering around and will sometimes end up walking around in circles. They sometimes lose their own hive and end up travelling large distances away. They will eventually die either of damage done by the maggots eating their insides or from erratic behavior getting them killed. All this serves to disperse the new generation of flies away from the site of infection increasing the geographic spread of the zombie flies. The maggots will leave the fly only when they are ready to pupate and become adult flies.

Their preferred host are various native North American bees and wasps, but it has been shown that they have taken to infecting European Honey bee colonies in North America, causing significant economic damage. Bees infected by Apocephalus borealis are often referred to as Zombees.

Check out other species which control the minds of animals here.

Apocephalus borealis are found throught the Nearctic zone.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Diptera
Family: Phoridae
Genus: Apocephalus
Species: Apocephalus borealis

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