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The Parasite That Forces Bees to Dig Their Own Graves

The life cycle of the conopid fly reads like a horror movie script. The fly attacks a bumblebee, the bee is knocked to the ground, but then assumes the fight is over and flies off. Only now the bee is carrying a fly egg that was forcibly inserted into her abdomen during the attack.

The egg’s new home is the bee’s fat stores. What was meant to be a source of energy for the bee becomes a source of nutrition for the fly larva. After devouring the fat stores, the growing larva continues to hollow out the bee’s body. It consumes internal tissues as if clearing furniture from someone’s apartment. The bee’s body is both the fly’s food and its home.

This micro-nightmare remains private for around 10 days, until the bee succumbs to its fate. It lands on the ground and digs itself into the soil. In a zombie-like motion, it uses its little bee legs to tunnel into its own grave, and die.

What appears to be torture and doom for the individual bumblebee is the normal survival scheme for conopid flies. How much damage could these flies do to the bees that pollinate our crops? Rosemary Malfi conducted a study to determine just that -and the results may surprise you. Read about the parasitic conopid fly at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: André Karwath)

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