A few years ago, John Hafernik detected in the walls of his house a thrumming hive of honeybees. He didn’t place a frantic call to the exterminator—he’s a bug-loving biologist at San Francisco State University—but grabbed some traps to experiment.
What he found was astonishing. Each dawn, his traps, which were equipped with lights, were filled with as many as 80 bees. That shouldn’t happen, because bees rarely go out at night; they use UV rays and polarized light to navigate and are “blind” without the sun. Even weirder, they swarmed the traps on January mornings when the weather was frosty. Cold kills bees. These were conditions in which no normal bee would be flying around.
The hive eventually died, which Hafernik credits with saving his marriage. “My wife was not excited about having bees in the walls,” says the 68-year-old San Franciscan. “The things we do for science.” But by then he had confirmed that his insect guests were the prey of a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, that injected eggs into their bodies. For some reason that caused the bees to become deranged before perishing somewhat like the chest-bursting victim in Alien.
Hafernik was originally responsible for discovering the gruesome interaction between honeybees and Apocephalus borealis. He noticed downed bees under electric lights in 2008 and put them in a jar as food for his lab’s praying mantises. He then forgot about the jar—when he came back, it was littered with brown pupae, which inspired a 2012 journal article fingering Apocephalusas the creator of what he calls “ZomBees.”