Looks like "global warming" is off the hook for honeybee deaths

Back in 2007, Wired Magazine mused:

It’s only slightly less ridiculous than the other bee killing theory that year – cell phones.

I published a story about the loony idea that was proposed by some researcher in Europe about “cell phone radiation may be killing bees”. I pointed out that it was garbage then, as it is now. I thought it was so ridiculous that I made some spoof artwork on it:


Fast forward to 2012, it looks like the culprit for colony collapse disorder has been found and it has nothing to do with global warming. The best part? Some scientific serendipity.

“Zombie” Fly Parasite Killing Honeybees By Katherine Harmon, Scientific American Blogs

Figure 2B from the paper: A parasitic fly landing on a honeybee.

A heap of dead bees was supposed to become food for a newly captured praying mantis. Instead, the pile ended up revealing a previously unrecognized suspect in colony collapse disorder—a mysterious condition that for several years has been causing declines in U.S. honeybee populations, which are needed to pollinate many important crops. This new potential culprit is a bizarre—and potentially devastating—parasitic fly that has been taking over the bodies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in Northern California.

John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, had collected some belly-up bees from the ground underneath lights around the University’s biology building. “But being an absent-minded professor,” he noted in a prepared statement, “I left them in a vial on my desk and forgot about them.” He soon got a shock. “The next time I looked at the vial, there were all these fly pupae surrounding the bees,” he said. A fly (Apocephalus borealis) had inserted its eggs into the bees, using their bodies as a home for its developing larvae. And the invaders had somehow led the bees from their hives to their deaths. A detailed description of the newly documented relationship was published online Tuesday in PLoS ONE.

The team found evidence of the fly in 77 percent of the hives they sampled in the Bay Area of California, as well as in some hives in the state’s agricultural Central Valley and in South Dakota. Previous research has found evidence that mites, a virus, a fungus, or a combination of these factors  might be responsible for the widespread colony collapse.


Here’s the paper, it is fully open and free for viewing:

A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis

Andrew Core1, Charles Runckel2, Jonathan Ivers1, Christopher Quock1, Travis Siapno1, Seraphina DeNault1, Brian Brown3, Joseph DeRisi2, Christopher D. Smith1, John Hafernik1*

1 Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California, United States of America, 2 Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America, 3 Entomology Section, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, California, United States of America


Honey bee colonies are subject to numerous pathogens and parasites. Interaction among multiple pathogens and parasites is the proposed cause for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome characterized by worker bees abandoning their hive. Here we 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. Parasitized honey bees show hive abandonment behavior, leaving their hives at night and dying shortly thereafter. On average, seven days later up to 13 phorid larvae emerge from each dead bee and pupate away from the bee. Using DNA barcoding, we confirmed that phorids that emerged from honey bees and bumble bees were the same species. Microarray analyses of honey bees from infected hives revealed that these bees are often infected with deformed wing virus and Nosema ceranae. Larvae and adult phorids also tested positive for these pathogens, implicating the fly as a potential vector or reservoir of these honey bee pathogens. 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. Understanding details of phorid infection may shed light on similar hive abandonment behaviors seen in CCD.


Here’s the culprit exiting a dead bee, figure 2C from the paper:

Two final instar larvae of A. borealis exiting a honey bee worker at the junction of the head and thorax (red arrows).

It appears the commercialization of honeybees, and the tendency to truck them around the nation for pollinization contributed to the spread of the parasite. The researchers mapped the process:

Figure 1. Distribution of phorid-infected honey bees sampled in this study (red). Inset shows the San Francisco Bay Area counties where we found phorid-parasitized honey bees. The routes of commercial hives tested are indicated (arrows), where dotted lines represent states the hives crossed before viral microarray testing and solid lines represent the route of hives during the period of microarray testing. Sites where A. borealis was previously known are indicated by black dots.

Read the full paper in web browser here or as PDF here.

This episode reminds me of the wailing over toads being killed due to “global warming” only to discover later it was a parasite…or how about Penguins? Remember that one? Nutty Story of the Day: “Global Warming” is Killing the Penguins in Antarctica. Turns out there was no connection at all. The next time we see some journalist going off on global warming causing something to die, please remind them of these blatant failures in correlation is not causation.

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Patrick Davis
January 6, 2012 7:11 pm

I have seen this before, alarmists trying to blame colony collapse on climate change, it’s not the cause. It’s been a well known fact that parasites, in particular the varroa bee mite, is causing the problem, and it actually is a real problem very much more so than any risk from AGW/ACC etc. I believe Australia is the only country that is free of parasites, the varroa mite in particular, so much so Aussie bees are exported in large numbers to “re-populate” areas where parasites have decimated colonies.
No bees, no plants, no food. Monsanto can modify all the seed on this rock it can, won’t help without bees.

January 6, 2012 7:22 pm

maybe its time to nuke the little fellows with a fresh powder of DDT. Seeing as how DDT has pretty much been proved not guilty of all its evils.

January 6, 2012 7:23 pm

Funny thing! Pesticides were killing off the Leapord Frogs. OH MY! This was the MIME for about 20 years among the “lefties” and enviromental wacko’s.
Then, about 10 years ago, an obscure professor at a small Iowa college, found a microscopic nematode was burrowing in the tadpoles, and causing the deaths and deformaties.
Funny thing! Next thing you know, someone might point out that alcohol consumption, obesity, and cigarette smoking are behind 90% of all “health problems”..and all within some modicum of control on the “individual” level.
Who knows! Oh well, I’ll DRINK to that….

January 6, 2012 7:30 pm

I am sorry to say we have a problem in australia with mites killing our bees too, the good news our native bees are ok but like some australians are very lazy

Doug Ferguson
January 6, 2012 7:32 pm

This is just another example of the global warming hype taking the public’s eye off real and serious environmental problems and, in turn, the focus of the politicians who are after their votes, and that, in turn, the scientists who are after the grant monies the politicians facilitate.

January 6, 2012 7:37 pm

Where’s the skepticism for this story?
Skepticism isn’t something you apply at your convenience. Skepticism is a fundamental principle of the scientific method. Let’s apply it here.

January 6, 2012 7:38 pm

Max Hugoson says: “Next thing you know, someone might point out that alcohol consumption, obesity, and cigarette smoking are behind 90% of all “health problems”
And I’ll have a quiet smoke while I think on that, Max.

January 6, 2012 7:40 pm

To be fair, this little fly isn’t the only culprit. The GW attribution actually disappeared three years ago when several different fungal diseases and parasites were found to cause the bee-death in several different places.
In short, it’s not a single problem. It’s several completely separate things happening to bees at about the same time, all thrown together into a single global “disaster”. Just like several different trends of temperature and precip in different places get thrown together into a single global “climate change.” Just like several countries that functioned quite well on their own get thrown together into a completely non-functional EU.
The real disease is our infantile modern compulsion to push all sorts of unrelated things into one box.
In earlier eras, an ability to discriminate between phenomena was considered a mark of intelligence and adulthood, while mashing things together into one useless concept was considered primitive.

January 6, 2012 7:44 pm

Morgo you are right too. Pesticides will kill off some bees too. However, I had a swarm try to get into one of my air bricks on the house. I am forever, saving bees that come into the house, but this time I was warned if they get into the infrastructure of the house, they will be a ‘b’ to get rid of.
These were hive bees not natives. I sprayed household insecticide on them, no effect. Bees have developed a resistance to Mortein. I got rid of them eventually by hosing them with water.
It stopped them, but when they dried out they all disappeared. I probably drowned the queen who had relocated.

Craig Moore
January 6, 2012 7:46 pm

Mite as well blame the buzz ards.

January 6, 2012 7:46 pm

Lends new meaning to the ‘concept’ of “buzzword”. Nothing to get Apish*t over, once again. Move along.

January 6, 2012 8:12 pm

Imagine the microbe wars that have been going on since air travel started.

January 6, 2012 8:14 pm

Zombies, in San Francisco? Color me surprised. Speaking of which, the famous and unnamed ‘Zombietime’ blogger is based there. He/she/it is well known for undercover photo essays of the um…different activities in that area. Just don’t click on the Folsom Street Fair section if you have a weak stomach!

January 6, 2012 8:14 pm

polistra says:
January 6, 2012 at 7:40 pm
In short, it’s not a single problem. It’s several completely separate things happening to bees at about the same time, all thrown together into a single global “disaster”. Just like several different trends of temperature and precip in different places get thrown together into a single global “climate change.” Just like several countries that functioned quite well on their own get thrown together into a completely non-functional EU.
The real disease is our infantile modern compulsion to push all sorts of unrelated things into one box.
Agreed on one level. But there is also a systems problem here, since the spread of parasites, flies, viruses, or whatever else is destroying these bee colonies, is being facilitated by our industrialized, mechanistic approaches to apiculture. Plants and animals shouldn’t be treated like machines. I wonder what ‘solutions’ science will offer for this massive and pervasive aggregate of destructive vectors?

Mike Rossander
January 6, 2012 8:20 pm

As a beekeeper, I can tell you that this paper is intriguing but not definitive. It is being discussed extensively over on BEE-L. The hypothesis matches some, maybe even many, of the observed patterns of the colony collapse patterns in the last decade. Phorid flies does not appear to be a sufficient explanation, however. There may be interactions with various pesticides which influence susceptibility.
The phorid fly hypothesis also does not seem fit the “disappearing disease” episodes of prior decades. Many beekeepers are coming to the conclusion that CCD is merely the latest iteration of a syndrome that has reoccurred (and then mysteriously stopped) several times. The mechanism by which the phorid fly would lapse for so long, if it does, is unexplained.
The “global warming -> CCD” hypothesis, of course, was ludicrous and ignored, among other things, the fact that honeybees are a tropical species that thrives as temperature rises.

Douglas DC
January 6, 2012 8:25 pm

I knew it! I knew it was a pathogen of some sort from day one. Just like the Frogs! I had a late friend who was a beekeeper. he said it was a matter of keeping the hives and shipping clean
and the bees form those hives kept separate..He knew it was an infection of some sort. but what does a Finnish beekeeper with an Ph.D in Entymology know..?

January 6, 2012 8:26 pm

Decades ago, I had a little side job doing some typing for a guy who ran a Monarch butterfly program, who was looking into the decline in numbers of the Monarchs. Long story short, he found a tiny wasp was laying its larvae in the caterpillars and they would end up dying before they could leave their cocoon. Natural cycle. A long cycle where the butterflies would peak, and then a few years later the parasitic wasp would peak, etc. It wasn’t pollution, or loss of habitat (though those factors certainly had a small influence) but I realized that he hated to report the actual cause because the funding would dry up. To his credit, he did report it fully and truly, and then went on to other projects.

R. Craigen
January 6, 2012 8:35 pm

Seems I’ve seen this hypothesis already worked out in detail, about a year ago. And the mites, and a virus. I believe that there is a combination of factors, and this is one. It’s not news, as far as I know. The Climate Change hypothesis can be used only as an exacerbating factory, but a minor one, as climate continually changes anyway, so this stuff happens all the time. My guess is that many such infestations have occurred in the past, honeybees died down, the parasites went away, honeybees recovered. It’s a natural dynamic. But the dynamic has changed with commercial breeding and shipping of bees. If this parasite can be regarded as the primary culprit, however, commercial breeding and shipping can also contribute to the solution, as we have the know-how to produce parasite-free colonies. This will only act as a damper, however — to permanently control the parasites must be eliminated in the wild. There are solutions, but they would be interventions that could have unintended consequences. It calls for more wisdom than we’ll find in the climate change alarmist community, so my advice is to keep those guys busy holding useless Kyoto and Copenhagen meetings while some real scientists work out solutions to such tough problems.

January 6, 2012 8:37 pm

Mike the beekeepers. Bees exist in other than tropical regions though? However, how will they go, if the weather gets colder than expected? When less plants flower?

Lew Skannen
January 6, 2012 8:42 pm

OK Global warming might have gotten away with it this time but the alarmists will be watching. And if global warming makes a slip they will POUNCE!

January 6, 2012 8:43 pm

Mike Rossander says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:20 pm
Just out of stupidity I would ask:
Do bees, let flies land on them and lay/insert larvae.
Is this some kind of symbiotic relationship gone awry ?

January 6, 2012 8:45 pm

Ain’t Science wonderful. Even silly mistakes can lead to useful discoveries

January 6, 2012 10:04 pm

….(ahem)…. Global warming causes the population of parasitic flies to increase.

Steve P
January 6, 2012 10:07 pm

The flies are very tiny, as the photograph clearly illustrates. To the naive Honey Bees, these wee parasites are like No-see-ums.
From the research article ‘A New Threat to Honey Bees, the Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus borealis” by Core, Runckel, Ivers, et al:

Honey bee colonies are subject to numerous pathogens and parasites.
[…] Here we 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
This latter point suggests that, even if the flies were present in low numbers in honey bee colonies in the past, something has happened recently that has increased densities making phorids an emerging threat.
In all, 77% of our sample sites (24 of 31) yielded honey bees parasitized by A. borealis.

Apocephalus borealis is a species of North American parasitoid phorid fly that parasitizes bumblebees, honey bees and paper wasps (Wiki)

Phoridae is a family of small, hump-backed flies resembling fruit flies. They are a diverse and successful group of insects. Approximately 4,000 species are known in 230 genera. The most well-known species is Megaselia scalaris, commonly called a “coffin fly”. (Wiki)

A deadly parasite reported in honeyebees in California and South Dakota and thought to be released to fight fire ants may be a case of mistaken identity, say Texas AgriLife Extension scientists.
Texas A&M, the University of Texas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Fla., have been releasing several species of phorid flies since 2000 to control red imported fire ants, according to a news release.
These are not the same species that have been reported parasitizing honeybees. That insect is Apocephalus borealis, which is native to North America. It is known to parasitize bumblebees and paper wasps.


No Apis specie (sic) existed in New World in human time before introduction of Apis melifera by Europeans. (Wiki)
Bottom line: The Western honey bee or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is an introduced, or non-native species, but Apocephalus borealis is native to North America. That suggest to me that the Western honey bee has no natural defense against this particular parasite, which apparently has learned to take advantage of a new host species.

January 6, 2012 10:11 pm

I, for one, have been perplexed by the comparative absence of sane climatologists and the recently declining numbers (or “collapse”) of sane academics in other fields, particularly (but far from exclusively) in Germany and the UK. My past conjectures regarding the cause of this have centred around possible use of mutagenic compounds in WWI or WWII, or residues of IQ diminishing chemicals used to spray ivy-covered college buildings. This paper has suggested another possible cause, the infection of previously sane scientists by parasitic pests, turning them into even greater parasitic pests themselves, sucking the life-blood from the economy. There has been little mention of this previously, though I doubt that the phenomenon is unprecedented. Thus far, I’ve found only this one reference to prior studies:

January 6, 2012 10:11 pm

What I can’t figure out is how anyone can blame global warming for much of anything like this. I mean, consider we are talking about something like a 0.1 degree change per decade in average annual temperature. A 0.1 degree change in annual temperature isn’t going to even be noticed by biology. The biosphere is much more likely to notice the more drastic change in solar UV radiation that happens over time.

Brian H
January 6, 2012 10:17 pm

Solution: do a Pascal on them, and breed smaller flies to bite ’em.

January 7, 2012 12:02 am

Hmmm… scientists playing God again? Wanted to kill the ants but instead are killing the bees? Dunno. Any one see the eerily similarity to some climatologists to geo-engineer the atmosphere in the name of controlling AGW? All in common, they are messing in areas they should know better.

January 7, 2012 1:27 am

“They” are at it again. When your funding is running short, tell a tall tale.
regards from a truly shamed Aussie..

P. Solar
January 7, 2012 1:45 am

Nut you’re missing the point :
Unprecedented Apocephalus borealis migration caused by global warming spreads CCD to California. !!!

January 7, 2012 1:57 am

i read a great article abut bee hives, it said that the temps inside the bee hives are critical to keep the bees healthy and free of pests etc, the ones most people use are not correct for this and they keep being opened up thus lowering the temps( temperature again!!)
the article suggested another type of hive where this did not happen, ok perhaps they were just trying to sell the new type of hive.
Interesting to note that problems with bee keeping goes back thousands of years according to Greek records or rather written evidence from the times.

January 7, 2012 2:02 am

just a story,
a friend of mine went out to Dubai and became bee keeper to the Sultan of Dubai, he was then known as Bee man, once a month the Sultan would have a meal with all the workers, so Bee man, Sheep man, Goat man, Fish Man, Horse man and others would all be there and slowly work their way around the table to talk to the Sultan and keep him informed, always being called by their animal title.
Bee man was there to supply Royal jelly to the Sultan and family.

January 7, 2012 2:51 am

Bees are not the only pollinator available to plants just the most obvious. I would miss the honey though.

January 7, 2012 3:07 am

This is just a new threat to the bees, we already deal with varroa and good bee lines will clean house when an outbreak occurs (this leads to a pile of dead bees and larvae in front of the hive). There are a few bacterial infections that can cause situations that look like colony collapse and require the hive to be purged. And given that we kept much fewer hives than a commercial operation a sudden queen death especially in winter when laying is at a minimum, can cause the workers to die off mostly in the field leaving an empty hive maybe with some drones. Another aspect is the increased use of pyretrins by municipalities which kill everything in the insect world.
And as far as temperature is concerned plotting honey bee activity levels which correlate well with waggle dance pheremone concentration, follow the same pattern as the temperature both in a general sense, and a daily variance. Bottom line bees like the weather to be a bit dry and bit on the warm side. In Statesboro our activity typically peaks mid to late august about the same time the temperatures do, 100-110 Farenheit.

January 7, 2012 3:13 am

so the rest of the places with CCD where this fly does NOT exist?
ie UK.
Bayer admitted it KNEW before releasing its imidacloprid and nicotinoid based sprays that it would kill bees insects in general AND small mammals and bats.
they then advised farmers to spray, late in the day., so the bees were less affected, problem?
the chem is still on the flowers and on the pollen and nectar sp they still cop a dose.
i find it puzzling that at a whisper, of varroa possible in aus thanks to migrating asian bees( and government inaction/ idiocy pulling funding to eradicate) usa said it wont import our queens to replace the dead.
and to the Q above. re Cold weather, no some bees do not cope well at all, some, however like european bees do survive over winter in spite of snows etc, aus bees cope with over 40C and down to zero and below. theyrve very adaptable given good shelter and water and a food source thats safe.
ps they do not like powerlines, they get bitey:-) and they will avoid hives with a mobile ph placed on it, they DO use their own personal magnetic system to navigate etc.

January 7, 2012 3:13 am

OK. don’t think that this lets you [snip] off the hook. I have a new theory. The reason why this parasite is able to thrive is because of global warming. So it is still global warming that is indirectly killing all the bees. Any don’t give me any nonsense about it stopped warming over a decade ago because global warming has now been re-branded as ‘climate change’. So it was warming, now it has stopped, and that is a climate change right? This is what caused the parasite to attack. It all makes perfect sense, at least as much sense as anything else in this global warming narrative.
[The d-word is unnacceptable on this site ~ jove, mod]

January 7, 2012 3:30 am

Richard @ 2.02 am:
Sultan? Dubai has a Sheikh (quite a few actually).

January 7, 2012 4:09 am

Yeah and the virus would not have existed or become virulent without global warming. Natural variability does not explain it, otherwise we would have seen these kinds of kills before. If you plot the poor bees dying over the last century you clearly see a hockey stick.

Reply to  DEEBEE
January 7, 2012 4:47 am

you didn’t even bother to read it – it’s a parasitic fly, not a virus.
If you plot the poor bees dying over the last century you clearly see a hockey stick.
A hockey stick – really? Are you sure you’re not exaggerating the shape of the graph? Reference please.
It might surprise you to realise that the number of beehives in the world has also increased dramatically over the last century (you might also like to call that graph a hockey stick). According to the FAO statistics the increase from ~1960-1990 was from just over 40 million to 60 million hives. Is it any wonder we see more deaths when we have given parasites and diseases an abundance of their host insect in handy groups of colonies.

Viv Evans
January 7, 2012 4:27 am

From the abstract:
“Microarray analyses of honey bees from infected hives revealed that these bees are often infected with deformed wing virus and Nosema ceranae. Larvae and adult phorids also tested positive for these pathogens, implicating the fly as a potential vector or reservoir of these honey bee pathogens.”
(My bold)
That, for me, was the really exiting finding by the researchers, in view of the fact that non-airborne pathogens need to come from somewhere in the first place.
It is pleasing that a serendipitous find produces such fine research.
Can we now say that biology has beaten climate science hands down?

January 7, 2012 5:01 am

So with all this talk about declining bee populations, nobody actually went out to look at the dead bees. So much for science eh. Its more about what *could* be happening and less about what *is* actually happening these days. No doubt some model somewhere had the climate related “answer” well before it was actually discovered.

Steve from Rockwood
January 7, 2012 5:19 am

It is unlikely that this fly is the only “killer” of honey bees. I blame the industry, specifically “the commercialization of honeybees” as the article notes.
I had a natural bee colony establish itself in my house. After calling three bee keepers the resounding response was “call an exterminator”. Seems as though bee keepers don’t like natural bee colonies because they produce less honey and could “infect” their other bee colonies (which were brought in by the bee keepers). Is this same process hitting natural bee colonies or just commercial bee colonies?

Luther Wu
January 7, 2012 6:58 am

For two rainy years, honeybees were a rare sight in my garden and clover lawn. During last summer’s drought, they were back in force. It might be that my little visitors were from hives far away and found plenty of pollen closer to home during the wet years. I’ve no clue, really.
Speculation is not proof… why is that so hard to understand?

January 7, 2012 7:18 am

Science research by accident is more convincing than the automatic statement.Global Warming caused it.
It is the beeginning of a solution of the problem.Stop those parasites.
So now that another unsupported claim is shot down.What is the next one?

January 7, 2012 7:22 am

I believe Sultan is correct.

Mike Rossander
January 7, 2012 7:39 am

We’re getting well off the topic of global warming but to briefly answer Steve’s comment on bees in your house:
Yes, many beekeepers are skeptical of feral hives because of the likelihood that you will be importing disease into your home apiary. More than that, however, is the financial risk of collecting a swarm from the physical structure of someone else’s house. I’d bet that about half of the people you called would have happily come to collect a swarm that had landed in a tree or even set up house in a garden shed.
Collecting the bees from a swarm is only part of the job. When the bees are established inside the walls of your house, the beekeeper (or exterminator) must also get to all the wax, stored honey and pollen and get that out as well. Otherwise, it will rot or attract mice, neither any good for your house. When the whole colony is exposed, the job is easy. When you have to break through drywall, worry about wires, worry about debris that falls out of reach, deal with the homeowner’s expectations about then repairing the drywall, … It’s just too much work and risk for the average beekeeper. (Depending on jurisdiction, it may also require special licensing and insurance.)
Your local bee club probably has a list of people who are willing to attempt a swarm collection. But even among that list, collecting from a residence is a specialized and expensive skill.
re “Is this same process hitting natural bee colonies or just commercial bee colonies?”
How would anyone know? Feral colonies are, by definition, unmanaged. Most feral colonies are still reeling from the importation of tracheal and then varroa mites. Even finding a feral colony is very difficult these days. Telling if they are also being affected by phorid flies is beyond our current capability.

Steve P
January 7, 2012 8:01 am

Wayne (January 7, 2012 at 12:02 am), that was my thought too.
Apparently, for some reason, Apocephalus borealis is just now learning that (European) Honey Bees make acceptable hosts, or there is some as yet unidentified variable that is also coming into play in the CCD equation to account for this seemingly recent development.
The release of several species of Phoridae to combat fire ants was done because, it is believed, these parasites are host specific. Apparently several species of Phoridae do prey on native Texas ants, but not – it is thought – on the invasive fire ants, hence the release of the tiny flies that do prey on the fire ants.
But we know that Apocephalus borealis preys on both Bumblebees and Paper Wasps and now (European, imported) Honey Bees (Apis mellifera), which have been present in N. America for just a few-hundred years, not that long in the overall scheme of things.
Not all Phoridae are completely host-specific, it would appear.
Because Apocephalus borealis was found in a large percentage of studied colonies, I think the researchers have found a very likely suspect to account for most CCD, since the tiny fly is also a vector of a couple viruses (as Viv Evans notes just above), themselves Agents of Change, above and beyond the direct mortality caused by the emerging instar.

January 7, 2012 8:15 am

Good to see WUWT reporting on the bee phorid is a largely logical and that many of the comments range from reasonable to highly knowledgeable (e.g. Mike Rossander). The only important lapse I see is that the CAGW crowd will have no problem hyping this as ‘it’s worse that we thought’ proof. They have been able to do similar mischief with any number of stories with less potential (e.g. the black-tip shark) and most of the MSM reporting on this story is already highly inaccurate and hysterical.

January 7, 2012 9:18 am

No report on CCD of honey bees seems to recognize the genetic bottleneck of honey bees the world over. It is past time to back-cross to some wild species on a massive scale to reintroduce some genetic diversity and hopefully some genetic resistance to the new modern world of globalization of pests.

ferd berple
January 7, 2012 9:21 am

nevket240 says:
January 7, 2012 at 1:27 am
“They” are at it again. When your funding is running short, tell a tall tale.
“Scientists label this acid trend “the evil twin of climate change”.
“And they are concerned that shell-thinning could threaten”
Shell thinning was EXACTLY the same argument made to ban DDT. All the need to do now is show that AGW causes cancer…

ferd berple
January 7, 2012 9:28 am

Steve P says:
January 7, 2012 at 8:01 am
Apparently, for some reason, Apocephalus borealis is just now learning that (European) Honey Bees make acceptable hosts…
The most reasonable explanation is contamination at supplier sites, due to cross infection, spreading disease to bee colonies.
Unfortunately, the preoccupation with “scientists” to explain everything in terms of “climate change” as a requirement to gain funding has corrupted scientific investigation along the lines of “political correctness”.
By seeking to explain everything in terms of “climate change”, we have neglected to look beyond our noses for the true causes. As a result, billions are wasted on solutions that provide no value. Any we wonder why the economy continues to decline.

January 7, 2012 9:56 am

Never fear, the Warmistas will soon claim that the once harmless fly, held in check by cooler weather, is now multiplying more rapidly due to warmer climes and causing this devistation. Some enterprising AGW professor will no doubt get a grant to study the affect of warmer, less dense air has on the fly’s ability to, well, fly, and hence more easily find it’s bee target.

January 7, 2012 10:16 am

As a former hobby beekeeper, I keep an eye on honeybee populations. Numbers are indeed way down, but varying a fair bit yr-to-yr. This past summer there were practically none, but some did finally appear for the late-season goldenrod-aster bloom. This seems to be a pattern — several yrs ago the summer population was low but better than usual, and the fall-bloom produced quite large numbers. So the hives seem to recover somewhat by autumn, but whatever diseases/parasites are at work are decimating the populations over the winters.

Al Gored
January 7, 2012 10:37 am

Evolution marches on.
But I must say, that photo of the hyper-happy looking woman on the cell phone with that perfect caption is truly hilarious. Congratulations to whomever put that together.

Jim Steele
January 7, 2012 10:56 am

The Bee Collapse hype that blamed global warming was almost purely a media response. All the papers I had read always implicated viruses and mites or some unknown disease. Colony Collapse Disorder was mostly a phenomena of the United State where honeybees are introduced and thus exposed to a wide variety of novel diseases and parasites. This exposure to novel disease is further increased by the rapid transportation of hives around regions of the country to pollinate agricultural crops. The industry spend billions on disease prevention from mites and the colony collapse was considered less of a threat.
My major complaints about the hype of global warming is that it misdirects funds and research from the real causes of wildlife disruptions. Environmental research stations have been closing down across the country and too much “research” is done by downloading satellite and temperature date and looking for statistical correlations insulated from real environmental study. The idea of global warming killing bees was purely speculative but spread through the media faster than a zombie virus. Real environmental knowledge comes from observation. The professor in this study John Hafernik taught an insect biology course for me at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus each year (and he still teaches classes there each summer that are open to the public), and despite being a believer in CO2 global warming, he is a superb biologist. What is just a dot zipping by to the lay person is readily recognized by Hafernik to the family or genus of fly, bee, beetle or other flying insect. He had collected bees and then later serendipitously observed parasites exiting the bees after they had been killed and that that provided the critical insight. Another co-author was a student my Advanced Placement Biology class. If you read any of the scientific literature on this disease and search for global warming, it can’t be found. For example “Honey bee colony losses” is online at http://frankycorp.wahost.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/histoire_ccd.pdf
It is the media that hijacks good conservation science to push a political global warming agenda. The media then abuses and misuses global average temperatures. Many of the colony losses were in 2009-2010 and people hyped that it as one of the warmest years on record. But if they looked at the local temperatures in the United States where colony collapses actually happened, temperatures were lower than they were in the 1930’s, and quite often lower than 2000. They hype defiles good science!

Al Gored
January 7, 2012 11:12 am

“This episode reminds me of the wailing over toads being killed due to “global warming” only to discover later it was a parasite…”
It could be argued that the whole AGW thingey was spread by parasites.

January 7, 2012 11:53 am

I think parasitic flys and wasps should be banned by the IPCC. It would be a major step forward and prove that the UN agency was doing SOMETHING.
People have short memories, but I remember seeing an informative documentary where alien parasites caused imense distress and hardhip to a group of human space farers. In fact, if it had not been for Ripley, things might have been much worse
So COME ON IPCC, and lets ban those parasites now

January 7, 2012 11:56 am

This is interesting that it took so long to figure out what was going wrong with the honeybees. If it takes that long to figure out that bees are being infected with fly eggs, how can anyone think understanding global temperature cycles is so well understood we can model it?
The next point is that honeybees dying is “different” and so global warming automatically makes the suspect list.I was reading a weather article recently, and they are now calling “El Nino” and “La Nina” events “anomalies.” If everything other than “average” is an anomaly, then everything is out of order all the time! Everything other than absolute average can be blamed on “Global Warming”!
Here is the definition of “anomaly”:
: deviation from the common rule : irregularity
: something anomalous : something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified
Are temperatures other than the absolute average “anomalous”? I would argue not!

Barbara Skolaut
January 7, 2012 1:28 pm

Since it’s published in Scientific American – known for having gone round the bend a number of years ago – can we trust the paper?
/not really sarcasm

January 7, 2012 2:25 pm

No, Its solar panels that are killing the bees. They get near them, get disoriented and can’t find their way back to the hive, so they die. That’s what I heard from the guy down the street who’s wife’s friends dad once lived next to a farm, so he would know.

January 7, 2012 2:28 pm

Just shows that AGW is a has bee(n).

January 7, 2012 3:13 pm

I will let Mike Rossander to do the heavy lifting on putting things straight with respect to CCD and the faith of european honey bees.
I will only like to point out that, at the same time that this Phorid fly paper appeared, there was this other one about Neonics, that didn’t receive any attention by the media.
Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields
Abstract Top
Populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined worldwide in recent years. A variety of stressors have been implicated as potential causes, including agricultural pesticides. Neonicotinoid insecticides, which are widely used and highly toxic to honey bees, have been found in previous analyses of honey bee pollen and comb material. However, the routes of exposure have remained largely undefined. We used LC/MS-MS to analyze samples of honey bees, pollen stored in the hive and several potential exposure routes associated with plantings of neonicotinoid treated maize. Our results demonstrate that bees are exposed to these compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the foraging period. During spring, extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed. We also found neonicotinoids in the soil of each field we sampled, including unplanted fields. Plants visited by foraging bees (dandelions) growing near these fields were found to contain neonicotinoids as well. This indicates deposition of neonicotinoids on the flowers, uptake by the root system, or both. Dead bees collected near hive entrances during the spring sampling period were found to contain clothianidin as well, although whether exposure was oral (consuming pollen) or by contact (soil/planter dust) is unclear. We also detected the insecticide clothianidin in pollen collected by bees and stored in the hive. When maize plants in our field reached anthesis, maize pollen from treated seed was found to contain clothianidin and other pesticides; and honey bees in our study readily collected maize pollen. These findings clarify some of the mechanisms by which honey bees may be exposed to agricultural pesticides throughout the growing season. These results have implications for a wide range of large-scale annual cropping systems that utilize neonicotinoid seed treatments.

January 7, 2012 3:14 pm

Richard @ 7.22:
I’ve been to Dubai many times and have only ever heard the ruler referred to as ‘Sheikh’. I will check.

Interstellar Bill
January 7, 2012 3:15 pm

I reiterate that ‘global warming’ can only means
Now that we know that most of the Southern Hemisphere never warmed,
and the recent cyclic Northern Warming has stopped,
can we stop using that propagandistic phrase?
Can we just answer the next survey with
‘No, there is and never has been any such thing.’
Because the insulative effect of CO2 greatly depends upon temp,
pressure, and humidity, it can only act locally, not globally.
On top of that, the radiative delta T per doubling is only 0.66C.
Gee, I’m supposed to be scared of 2/3 of a degree over the whole Earth,
which would barely register on my fever thermometer.
Worrying about that is little short of feeble-mindedness.

January 7, 2012 3:16 pm

The word ‘Sultan’ might occur within the name but the first title is ‘Sheikh’.

January 7, 2012 3:38 pm

Richard: This is the last entry from me on the subject of the bee-keeping sultan! The present ruler of Dubai is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. I just wanted to be sure I wrote it correctly.

Steve from Rockwood
January 7, 2012 3:46 pm

Mike Rossander says:
January 7, 2012 at 7:39 am
Thanks Mike. After the exterminator removed the hive we removed all the dry-wall, vapor barrier and insulation, then cleaned all the wood with a bleach mixture. I pulled out 10-15 handfuls of dead bees as they take a while to die and we were told to wait 24 hours before completing the removal. I’m not sure what was used to kill the bees but I developed a mild rash on my arm where I came into contact with the hive while scrapping off the bits the exterminator missed. He wore gloves and had a long sleeve shirt.
Yes, feral bees would seem to be far off the topic of global warming but so would more frequent hurricanes, stronger tornadoes, deformed toads, extreme weather and all other things attributed to AGW. I am thankful WUWT doesn’t mind tangents. Thanks again.

January 7, 2012 4:10 pm

O/T Annie and Richard. Sheik is a honorific term, and the term can also apply to a Muslim scholar of renown. Although a Sheik can rule/govern a province, the Imam has more authority on a religious basis that in a theocracy counts more. Sultan is often an inherited title for a Muslim ruler, as in the Sultan of Brunei mainly used in India, SE Asia. It depends on the Muslim region, but Sheik is the leader of a specific tribe. But a Sultan can be upgraded to King as in Saudi Arabia. Or of course we have Shah to, as in Shah of Persia.

January 7, 2012 7:56 pm

I’m struggling to comprehend how (after decades of missing bees) – no entomologist looked at the bodies…? I’ve been working under the mistaken impression that all of the standard biologic and environmental vectors had been thoroughly investigated and dismissed.
Was this another example of comfirmation bias?

January 7, 2012 8:00 pm

This sounds to me like a body snatcher, not a zombie.

January 7, 2012 10:21 pm

On a lighter note, here is Dave Barry’s take on phorids:
“What happens is, the female phorid fly swoops in on a fire ant and, in less than a tenth of a second, injects an egg into the ant’s midsection. When the egg hatches, the maggot crawls up inside the ant, and — here is the good part — eats the entire contents of the ant’s head. This poses a serious medical problem for the ant, which, after walking around for a couple of weeks with its insides being eaten, has its head actually fall off. At that point it becomes a contestant on The Bachelorette.”
I don’t know how scientifically accurate it is, but it is very, very funny.

Steve P
January 7, 2012 11:44 pm

As this is an open thread, I’m going to unload a bit.
At what point in our history did it become more important to be funny, than relevant? I don’t know how funny that is, but it is very, very relevant.

January 8, 2012 7:04 am

When I began to connect climate change with bee decline, I was immediately drawn to the reduction in magnetic flux, and the fact that bees use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate back to their hives.
I contacted national bee keeping societies, who,naturally, poo-pooed the idea.
So much for science.

January 8, 2012 7:26 am

Speaking of hype…
We keep hearing how without honey bees the global food supply would collapse. Yet some very large percentage of total foods grown in the world are either wind pollinated ( corn and other grasses, for example ) or are native to America where the honey bee is an introduced species ( ALL the squashes, tomatoes, potatoes and common beans for example) and some self pollinate before the flower fully opens ( common beans for example) though can also cross pollinate via bees (a source of contamination if trying to keep heirloom seeds pure). There are others, too. Figs are pollinated by a micro sized wasp.
Seems to me like an overdone fear hype.
In my garden (in the Bay Area which they show as having ‘the problem’) I’ve noticed in the last dozen years that the number of honey bees has dropped. Maybe about 1/4 what it once was. Yet the number of native bumble bee has gone up significantly. Each summer I see at least 3 different bee types in my garden, but 4 physical types. One, the California Valley Carpenter Bee has sexual dimorphism – the female is black and the male is a bright gold with green eyes, just spectacular.
I’ve also noticed at least 2 fly types acting as pollinators and at least one tiny wasp may be pollinating or may be looking for flies as it is on the parsnips at the same time. ( Parsnips, in particular, get an odd assortment of small pollinators on them.) Oh, and the hummingbirds also pollinate some things. The sage, in particular, seems popular with them and the Carpenter Bees. Carpenter bees also really love the big flowers on squashes and pumpkins.)
At the end of the day, as much as I love honey, I find myself wondering: Just how critical is the honey bee, really, to food production? Convenient, yes. Helpful, very much so. But are there not a whole lot of other pollinators that would step in to take the nectar if the honey bee were to decline? The evidence of observations in my garden would say ‘yes’.
Is it just a ‘fruit thing’? Peaches and apples perhaps? Yet even there, my apple trees have bumble bees visiting…
So I really do suspect that the Food Scare is just that: Yet Another Hyped Scare.
Second Point:
We have an imminent threat of Africanized “killer bees” arriving in California. I see this going one of two ways: Either they are immune to the pests, so can replace the pure European Honey Bee as pollinator and honey maker OR they are susceptible and the buggers getting parasitized and dying off is a feature. Again, I’m seeing more of a ‘minor bother’ and less of an existential threat.
All in all it looks to me like the entire set of “scary scary” stuff around honey bees is just hype. A potential problem, yes, but far less than things our parents and grandparents dealt with on a regular basis. For my garden, the “solution” looks to be as simple as leaving a couple of dead logs laying in a corner for the carpenter bees to make a colony.
Has pictures I took of some of the various ‘critters’ in my garden.

Steve P
January 8, 2012 8:30 am

E.M.Smith says:
January 8, 2012 at 7:26 am
Excellent observations and comments!
The ladybird beetles are another pollinator and excellent pest control agent (here being stalked by some kind of tiny fly or wasp in my photograph).
True enough, some lady beetles were imported to control this or that, and a few are now considered pests, by some, but there are numerous native species, as well.

January 8, 2012 9:35 am

Glorious picture you took! Golly… looks like the Pentax is a pretty darned good camera… ( And me owning both Nikon and Canon…)
Oh, you are also right: I forgot to mention the lady bugs and a couple of other crawling ‘accidental pollinators’. I usually let a bag of them loose in the garden every year or three…

Mike Rossander
January 8, 2012 11:33 am

re: LearDog’s comment that “I’m struggling to comprehend how (after decades of missing bees) – no entomologist looked at the bodies…?”
First, it wasn’t decades. The term Colony Collapse Disorder was not even coined until 2006 when an unusually high number of colonies dies (some die every year) and did so in a pattern that is not usually seen by beekeepers. While some beekeepers now think that this may have occurred in prior decades, if so it is a very intermittent phenomenon.
Second, the nature of Colony Collapse is that there are no dead bodies to examine. That is one of the defining characteristics of the disorder. In a CCD-colony, you go in a few weeks from a strong, outwardly-healthy colony with a normal mix of castes and ages to a “stub” colony with a queen, a handful of workers and brood. That existence of the queen and brood is perplexing because most colony-death situations take them out first, leaving the workers for last. The workers were not dead in the immediate vicinity of the colony either.
No one knew where the workers went in a CCD-colony. Maybe they absconded somewhere. Maybe they were eaten by skunks or bluejays. Maybe they died of a pesticide so toxic that they never made it back to the colony. More likely, they died somewhere away from the colony. But since a bee forages as much as 2 miles from its home, a forage area on the order of 5 E 10 square inches, and since the bee carcass is less than .2 square inches – well, finding a needle in a haystack would be comparatively easy.
The dead bees collected by Dr Hafernik were a bit of a fluke – not collected in the interest of evaluating CCD but merely to feed his praying mantis. So, no, I do not see evidence of confirmation bias in this story. Merely a recognition that serendipity is more important to scientific progress than many of us would like to admit.

January 8, 2012 11:53 am

Just as I said, workers apparently “get lost” and do not return to the hive.

January 8, 2012 12:15 pm

I have a solution for all the Al Gore wannabes who are trying their best to take over the whole economy and see yet another one of their cherished myths going down in flames. . . .
All you have to do is conclude that these new little bugs that bite bee’s backs. . . . .thrive on carbon dioxide!!
The facts are unquestioned:
1) carbon dioxide is higher than it was before and
2) honeybee hives are collapsing, possibly because of Apocephalus borealis.
Therefore, there can be no question that the flies are thriving because of. . . . . carbon dioxide. The science is settled, and Al Gore should be made absolute dictator of the world and war done away with, because the only reason we have higher levels of carbon dioxide is because of the wicked, wasted ways of the capitalistic west that burns all that coal.
The added advantage of this approach is you can avoid all those unpleasant, unkind, and perplexing questions raised by the denier community.. . . . .

Steve P
January 8, 2012 1:34 pm

Thanks very much E.M. (January 8, 2012 at 9:35 am)
I’ve been a Pentax man since the brand was recommended over Nikon and Canon by a fellow airman while we were serving in N. Japan back in the 60s, keeping tabs on the Red Bear. (Or almost as long as I’ve been chomping down on, and sometimes grinding, a bunch of mercury amalgam filled molars and wisdom teeth, which date back to the 50s.)
Canon was making the Pellix at the time, and the big Nikon F was favored by many pros, but Pentax has always appealed to me based on their relatively small size, good handling, excellent optics (Asahi was first and foremost, an optical company), and very high bang for the buck. Plus, there’s the very appealing maverick factor — not doing what everyone else is doing.
As for the Honey Bees, and to augment Mike Rossander excellent comment (January 8, 2012 at 11:33 am), apparently one effect of the embedded larval parasite on the bee is to cause the host bee to fly at night, and, atypically for bees, to be attracted to lights during these nocturnal flights, which may be their last ones. The dying bees from CCD are far from the hive when they give up the ghost, in the form of the new adult fly.

January 9, 2012 8:01 am

Message from Joe Derisi on Media craziness: phorids and bees
It looks like the media has really run with the whole zombie-bee phorid thing. Charles and I are authors on that paper, but I want you to know that we do not agree with the statements being made in the press and by others, claiming that phorids are even remotely responsible for colony collapse.
You may hear from your stakeholders that are listening to the popular press today. The media is way over-hyping this story.
Joseph DeRisi
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
UC San Francisco

Mike Rossander
January 9, 2012 8:57 am

A message from Joe Derisi, one of the authors of the paper in question, was recently posted on BEE-L. I think it will be of interest here, too.
(quote begins)
Subject: Media craziness: phorids and bees
It looks like the media has really run with the whole zombie-bee phorid thing. Charles and I are authors on that paper, but I want you to know that we do not agree with the statements being made in the press and by others, claiming that phorids are even remotely responsible for colony collapse.
You may hear from your stakeholders that are listening to the popular press today. The media is way over-hyping this story.
Joseph DeRisi
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
UC San Francisco
(quote ends)

Mike Rossander
January 9, 2012 8:58 am

To the moderators – Sorry, looks like Juanse beat me to the “save” button. Please ignore my duplicate.

Steve P
January 9, 2012 9:38 am

Juanse Barros says:
January 9, 2012 at 8:01 am
“…Charles and I are authors on that paper, but I want you to know that we do not agree with the statements being made in the press and by others, claiming that phorids are even remotely responsible for colony collapse…”
Thanks for the clarification, Joseph, but your remark has left me a little confused. I’ve read through most of your paper twice, and what I take away is that the phorids are having a fairly significant effect on honey bee behavior, which seems at odds with what you have written, above.
Could you provide a more definitive statement on what role the parasitic flies are playing in CCD?
Thanks in advance.
Also, for those who will not or haven’t read the paper, my statement above

The dying bees from CCD are far from the hive when they give up the ghost, in the form of the new adult fly.

is in error, since the it is the larval instar that emerges from the dead or dying bee, not the adult fly. The larvae pupate away from the dead bee.

January 9, 2012 11:55 pm

Bayer CropScience’s Clothianidin is being used as a pesticide on flowering crops in much of the world after Bayer suppressed, altered and flat out fabricated information that it wasn’t extremely lethal to bees.
Their US EPA study put two hives nearly next door to each other in the middle of two fields, one treated with seedcoat and the other not. The death rate was uniform between the two hive sets simply because both hives were consuming the same ratio of poison.
Clothianidin was banned in Germany after a seedcoat trial of less than fifty acres killed more than 350,000,000 bees. These bees weren’t killed by collecting pollen from the plants but were destroyed simply by being in contact with environmental levels of disturbed seedcoat dust from the planting process.
Clothianidin is EXCEPTIONALLY lethal to bees. It is being marketed in the US as a lawn-only pesticide, these often mistakenly used as ornamental and flowering fruit tree pesticides by residential owners. The LD50 is so low for bees that a single application as directed even twice the residual period before flowering will cripple hives which utilize the tainted pollen.
It is most certainly NOT the cellphone system that is killing bees. We’re actually approaching a level of background toxicity in several States that can easily decimate hive population and the unconsumed residual lasts on inside the honey itself.
No studies have been done to determine residual duration inside the preserving nature of honey, we can only assume it greatly extends the window of toxicity.

January 13, 2012 9:15 am

There’s a truly outstanding example of uninformed “reporting” in the UK Guardian today. Claire Thompson writes about CCD, mostly blaming a pesticide, but completely missing the well-publicized news about the parasitic fly. Pesticides don’t explain colonies that completely disappear; the behavior-changing fly specifically explains that phenomenon.

January 17, 2012 1:24 am

Nicotine-based pesticides in widespread use by farmers are implicated in the mass deaths of bees, according to a new study by US scientists.
( http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/environment/scientists-link-mass-death-of-british-bees-to-farm-pesticides.1326596745 )

January 19, 2012 8:18 am

But did the “zombie flies” lay their eggs BEFORE, or AFTER the deaths of the bees? It is unclear from the article– it is fairly common for some flies to lay eggs in dead or necrotizing animal flesh– is there enough evidence yet to show if the “zombie flies” are any different?

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