- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Eric Mussen is used to fielding questions about honey bees--how and why they gather nectar, honey, propolis and water; how many eggs a queen bee can lay in a day; and why beekeeper use smokers.
Typical of the questions and his answers:Why do beekeepers use smokers?
The smoke from the smoker has three effects on the bees. First, it prevents the guard bees from liberating much “alarm pheromone” (smells like bananas) in the hive. Second, it prevents “soldier” bees in the hive from smelling the pheromone that has been secreted. Third, it causes many bees to fill up on honey. Despite the wives’ tales to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that the bees “think” there is a fire or that bees full of honey cannot sting.
Can honey bees see color?
Yes, honey bees can see nearly all the colors we see. They cannot see red, which looks black to them. They can see into the UV wavelengths a ways, which is beyond our limit at purple. UV looks black to us.
However, when Mussen takes the stage on Monday, March 1 at the California Small Farm Conference in San Diego, he won't be giving a presentation on honey bees or answering questions.
He'll be receiving a well-deserved award: the Pedro Ilic Outstanding Ag Educator Award for his work in educating the agricultural community, the beekeeping industry and the general public about honey bees.
Mussen, an Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, is considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation.
He serves in leadership roles in numerous honey bee organizations, from the California State Beekeepers' Association to the American Honey Producers' Association. He helped found the Western Apicultural Society and served terms as president. The list of service to agriculture and apiculture is both impressive and extensive.
“Yet he is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child’s question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” said nominator Larry Godfrey, Extension entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Mussen delivers his messages via computer, phone, field and office visits, research, conferences and publications. Since 1976, he has written the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and fact sheets called Bee Briefs.
Yet unbeknowst to many of today's agriculturists: Eric Mussen and Pedro Ilic, a small farm-advisor in Fresno County who died in 1994, knew each other. In fact, they worked together as members of the Small Farm Work Group, part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
"They were alike in many ways: their dedication, enthusiasm, high energy, friendliness, their commitment to small-scale and family farming, and the easy-going way they imparted information on a diversity of projects, solving a multitude of problems—and sometimes at a moment’s notice,” Godfrey said.
Ilic was known as an effective teacher who instilled self-esteem in others and constantly encouraged others, his colleagues said. Illic showed characteristic determination, exuberance, high energy, and genuine friendliness for all people, with the conviction that the smallest is as important as the biggest.
That would be describing Eric Mussen to a "T."
Or to a "B."
A tip of the bee veil to Eric Mussen, public servant extraordinaire.