"Zombie bees" showing up in Henry County

HENRY COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Zombie bees may sound like science fiction, but in fact they're real and they're in Henry County.

"You find them flying around at night, they don't fly around during the day, you may find them walking around on the ground in circles," said Melanie Barrow, the Martinsville-Henry County extension agent, describing the symptoms of zombie bees.

She says this is a regional problem.

"We are so close to the North Carolina line, then it could easily move into Tennessee, it could easily move into West Virginia, it could easily move into Maryland," she pointed out.

Lynn Berry lives in Collinsville and so far has only had one of his bees test positive for being infected by the disease caused by a phorid fly, but he says some days he finds 30-40 dead bees under the light outside his garage, a potential indicator that more bees are being infected.

"At this point, we don't know how big this is, how widespread this is," Berry emphasized.

His bees are the first known in the state and the first known in any southern state to become infected.

Virginia State Apiary Keith Tignor says the fly, which is similar to a fruit fly, specifically seeks out bees and injects its larva into them.

As the larva develop, they eat the bee from the inside out until they're ready to hatch.

"We are looking into it and we'll follow up with the individual and provider further education for the beekeepers in the state," Tignor said.

Berry says he is continuing to monitor his bees and provide as much information to the researchers at San Francisco State University in California as possible.

The researchers there are heading the study of this disease because that's where zombie bees were first spotted in the U.S.

In the mean time, Berry encourages other beekeepers to monitor their bees closely.

"If this thing were to start taking over hives, you could literally wipe out hives I believe. Then, we have a real problem," Berry explained.

A project called Zombie Watch has been created to help identify infected bees. Members go out at night to areas where hives are known to be and they look for any bees exhibiting the symptoms of a zombie bee.