If you grew up in the British Isles or North America, you probably dressed as a ghoul or a super-hero each year on Halloween. For those of you outside the sphere of Celtic autumn rituals, you might not know that Halloween grew out of a pagan tradition that playfully invited participants to mimic zombies on October 31 (on the Reformed Interdenominational Celtic Calendar). That’s the day that dead people annually leave their graves and walk among the living. If you looked and acted like one of the undead grave dwellers yourself, the real dead folks would leave you alone. The church also got in on the fun. The church leaders didn’t stop the ancient tradition but instead created a new religious holiday, All Saints’ Day, to follow the day after pagan Halloween, then called Samhain. By All Saints’ Day, the dead have returned to the cemetery. There relatives and pious people would visit them, bringing candles.
I don’t have any dead walking bees, but I can tell you about zombie bees. Zombees, as the poor creatures are lovingly called by entomologists, are just normal honey bees which have the larvae of a fly, the Apocephalus borealis, living inside the bee and feeding on the bee’s brain while the parasitic fly develops. Rather unfortunate, isn’t it? Female flies lay their eggs in the bees. The larvae grow and attack the bees’ brains. The result is out of control bees that sometimes fly in the dark and on cold, rainy nights when they would normally be sleeping. The zombie flies and their infected zombees have recently been found in San Francisco and Vermont. Why they showed up on opposite coasts is a mystery, but there are a few occurrences mid-continent, too. A website called ZomBee Watch documents discoveries and has a map here.
I don’t want to scare you with more tales of zombees, so I’m ending with a cute picture taken by my niece Martha in Florida earlier this month. Halloween colours are orange and black – as are the colours of the pollen stuck to these bees’ corbicula.