The non-profit educational organization, geared for small-scale beekeepers in the western United States, is headed by president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, of UC Davis.
WAS has already booked Kim Flottum of Medina, Ohio, editor of Bee Culture; Les Crowder of Austin, Texas, author of Top-Bar Beekeeping; Gene Brandi of Los Banos, president of the American Beekeeping Federation; Larry Connor of Kalamazoo, Mich., author and beekeeper; Rod Scarlett, executive director, Canadian Honey Council, and Slava Strogolov, chief executive officer of Strong Microbials Inc., Milwaukee.
- Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño will speak on “Impact of Varroa on Honey Bee Reproductive Castes): Where Will the Research Lead Us?” at at 8:30 a.m. The three reproductive castes are the queen and worker bee (female), and drone (male).
- Associate professor Brian Johnson will speak on “Geographical Distribution of Africanized Bees in California” at 9 a.m., He will show “the results of a genotyping study of bees caught from across California showing the current distribution of Africanized Honey Bees in our state."
- Distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator specialist, will discuss “Life Cycles of Commonly Encountered Native Bee Genera" at 10:30 a.m. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
- Professor Neal Williams, a pollination ecologist, will discuss “Known and Potential of Native Bees in Crop Pollination” at 11 a.m.
Casey also will lead a tour of the haven at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. “The Haven is a unique outdoor museum designed to educate visitors about bees and the plants that support them," she says. "Tour participants will see some of our 85 bee and 200 plant species, learn about our outreach and research programs, and gain ideas for their own bee gardens." Other tours are to Mann Lake facility and Z Specialty Foods, both in Woodland.
On Friday, Sept. 8, Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen will moderate a panel on “Pesticide Toxicity Testing with Adult and Immature Honey Bees.” The panel will convene at 9:15 a.m. At 1:30 on Friday, assistant professor Rachel Vannette of UC Davis will discuss “Variation in Nectar Quality Influence Pollinator Foraging." She studies floral nectar chemistry and microbiology and examines how these characteristics of flowers mediate interactions between plants and pollinators
Other UC Davis highlights:
Honey Tasting: Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, UC Davis, will lead a moderated honey tasting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The event is titled “Taste the Honey Flavors of the West: How Understanding the Nuances of your Honey Can Help You Market your Perfect Sweet.” Said Harris: "Basically I plan to discuss the diversity and life styles of non-Apis bees to show how different most are from honey bees."
Memories: The founders of WAS will discuss "how it all began" from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The organization, founded at UC Davis, was the brainchild of Norm Gary, then professor of apiculture (now emeritus), who served as the first WAS president. Assisting him in founding the organization were Eric Mussen, then an Extension apiculturist who was elected the first WAS vice president; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now a nematologist in the department, who held the office of secretary-treasurer.
More information on the conference is available from the WAS website or contact Eric Mussen, serving his sixth term as president, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, he enrolled in an introductory entomology class. “I remember seeing the research technician standing in and indoor flight cage, surrounded by bees,” Nye said. “They were flying from the hive to a feeder stand and completely ignoring her. We covered the long history of beekeeping in that class around that same time and I was just amazed at how much knowledge had been collected. I applied for a job and started working as an assistant to the research technician I saw that day that spring. I spent the next three summers working for the lab of Dr. Gene Robinson and learning as much as I could.”
He went on to spend eight years in Illinois working with the bees—three as an undergraduate assistant and five years as the facility manager and research technician. He joined UC Davis in December 2015.
“Adapting to the California ecosystem has been a bit of an adjustment,” Nye said. “A big part of beekeeping is understanding the ecosystem you live in. If you've got a bee yard that doesn't have a water source close, you may need to move water in during dry periods. Different flowers provide nectar and pollen at varying quantities, so being aware of what's going on in the environment can give you some insight into whether or not you might need to assist your bees with some sugar to make it until the next bloom. That has honestly been my favorite part of moving here, learning about all the trees and shrubs and wildflowers and when they bloom. It's a constant process through the year, and being my first year here it's been really enjoyable to watch the seasons progress."
Nye welcomes the worldwide interest in bees and the crucial role they play. “I think people are starting to understand the complex role bees play in our food system, and I hope in the future we could help educate people about how the agricultural system is helped by natural areas,” he said. “Here in the Central Valley, there is very little unused space. We are able to bring in honey bees on trucks from distant areas to pollinate our crops, but it's a very precarious system that we are relying on to make that work. Having some natural corridors for pollinators year round would really help increase the population of native bees, help the health of honey bees, and keep us from worrying about losing the delicate balance we are keeping between honey bees and agricultural production.”
"I think the general public's knowledge of bees has made amazing advances in recent years. The shortage of bees for agricultural purposes here in the Central Valley really brought beekeeping into the news, followed by a lot of documentaries and things that made people want to be beekeepers or at least plant pollinator friendly gardens. Lots of people bring up beekeeping documentaries they've seen, and I don't think beekeepers were experiencing that 20 years ago. Overall, I'm mostly impressed with the amount of bee related knowledge out in the world right now.
Myths and misconceptions about bees? Often people associate bees with stinging, and falsely claim they have an allergy. “I've been doing this long enough that I don't laugh at people when they tell me they are allergic, but I think people don't completely understand what allergic means,” he said. “Only one or two people out of 1000 are actually allergic and have a life threatening reaction--most people just experience pain and swelling. I try to point out to people that when it hurts and makes their hand swell up, that might not mean they have a bee allergy, but most of the time I just nod my head and move on. I worked a booth at a local fair and half my conversations were people telling me they were allergic because it hurt. I get stung every day, and I can attest that at no point does it stop hurting.”
Nye divides his time with the labs of Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, pollination ecologist Neal Williams, and Brian Johnson, who studies the behavior, evolution and genetics of honey bees. “My responsibilities are pretty spread out,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent keeping the bees healthy enough for experiments.” In peak season, “it's pretty common to just have a few weeks' notice that we need any number of healthy full sized colonies, and like other animals, you can't grow a calf to a full sized cow with any magic tricks, so we try to buffer that by keeping a tight schedule for disease monitoring and making sure all our colonies are as robust as possible.”
What does he like the best about his job? The least?
"My job has a great balance between working out in a natural setting going through bee hives, and coming back to the lab and getting involved in research," he said. "I think doing either one of them by themselves would get a little tedious for me, so I feel really lucky to be able to split myself between the two. The least? It might be kind of a strange complaint, but foxtails. I spend a lot of time walking through tall grass and those foxtails burrow into my shoes and make me crazy. And I'm told I have to worry about them going up my dog's nose? I would say it's an urban myth but the seeds ability to get into my shoe and under my sock is practically magic."
(Editor's Note: For a list of the 2017 apiculture courses that the Niño lab is offering and teaching, see this page.)
Participants may register for one or both courses, according to Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, who is coordinating and teaching the courses with Bernardo Niño and colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Each course will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. The maximum number of participants per course is 25.
Planning Ahead for Your First Hive
The course, “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives,” taught by Elina Niño, Bernardo Niño, Charley Nye and Tricia Bohls, will provide lectures and hands-on exercises. The course is described as “perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills before moving on to the next step of owning and caring for their own honey bee colonies.”
Lecture modules will cover honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive. Practical modules will zero in on how to build a hive, install a package, inspect a hive and monitor for varroa mites.
Participants will have the opportunity to learn about and practice many aspects of what is necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving. At the end of the course, participants "will be knowledgeable about installing honey bee packages, monitoring their own colonies and taking on possible challenges with maintaining a healthy colony."
The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments.
Working Your Colonies
For the short course, “Working Your Colonies,” instructors are Elina Niño and Bernardo Niño. The course, to include lectures and hands-on exercises, is described as “perfect or those who already have beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical to move on to the next step of managing and working their own honey bee colonies.”
Lecture modules will include advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management and products of the hive. Practical modules will cover queen wrangling, honey extraction, combining colonies, splitting colonies and monitoring for varroa mites. The $150 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch, and refreshments.
For each course, participants are asked to bring a bee suit or veil if they have one (the lab has a limited number). Lodging is not provided. For more information on registering for the short courses, contact Bernardo Niño at email@example.com or (530) 380-BUZZ (2899). See lab's Facebook page.
(Editor's Note: An update: The results of the CDFA analysis have been announced. The maternal lineage of the problematic colony in Concord was European. "Therefore, if that queen's daughters were acting in a very Africanized manner, it might have been because she mated with Africanized drones in the area," said Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, "or because there are a number of drones from European cantankerous colonies around the area. The paternity tests were not run.")
It's all the buzz.)
For the past several days, journalists have sought out UC Davis experts Extension apiculturist Elina Niño and Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen to weigh in on the recent defensive bee incident in Concord.
The three-day incident began Friday, May 13, and primarily ended on Sunday, when many of the bees were destroyed. What happened: A beekeeper on Hitchcock Road was moving his two hives to make way for landscaping in his yard. He moved the first hive successfully, but the bees in the second hive turned defensive, killing two dogs, attacking a mail carrier, and targeting numerous passersby.
DNA tests are underway to see if the bees are Africanized. “Their behavior is very suggestive that they could be Africanized,” Mussen said.
Niño, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in September 2014, replacing Mussen, was interviewed by the Associated Press, San Francisco and Kathy Park of KXTV Channel 10 and Tom Jensen of KCRA Channel 3. More interviews are pending.
Mussen, who completed a 38-year career in 2014 and now serves as emeritus, was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle and in other news media.
Niño told KCRA "Africanized honey bees tend to be more defensive, they amount a stronger defensive response. First of all, we don't like to call them killer bees. That's definitely not what they're there for. They're not coming at you for no reason."
Mussen told the San Francisco Chronicle that attempts to avoid the bees may have actually made things worse. Waving arms and swatting motions can provoke bees to sting — and then the stings themselves act as markers for other bees to target, he said.
Africanized bees are a hybrid of African honey bees and European/Western honey bees. In the 1950s, Brazilian scientists exported bees from South Africa to improve breeding stock and increase honey production. However the bees escaped quarantine and began mating with European honey bees. Since they they have spread throughout South and Central America and arrived in North America in 1985. Africanized bees expanded into southern California in 1994.
In appearance, Africanized bees and European honey bees look alike and cannot be distinguished except through DNA tests, Niño and Mussen said.
Mussen says that we have three ways to try to differentiate between Africanized honey bees (AHBs) and European honey bees (EHBs):
1. Mitochondrial DNA – The California Department of Food and Agricuture (CDFA) still conducts this type of testing once a year to clear the California Bee Breeders for queen exports into Canada. CDFA also uses this criterion as "the one" for declaring Africanization. However, its value in predicting temperament of the colony population is not particularly reliable.
2. Isozymes - the amino acid composition of certain enzymes differs between the two races
3. Morphometrics - computer matching of current sample specimens to verified AHB and EHB samples using measurements of various anatomical features. Hybrids are problematic.
"That type of bee was found around southern California and as far north as not too far from Angles Camp (Calaveras County)," Mussen mentioned. "Further north, they found only specimens with one or two traits, but not all three. That even occurred just into southern Oregon."
“Yes, EHB colonies can behave in that nasty manner, but I think it is more likely that AHBs are involved,” Mussen says. He recalled that twice in the 1980s, swarms of bees from South America accompanied shipments of raw sugar cane into the C&H sugar refinery in Crockett (Contra Costa County). We know the first one got away. They think they got the second one, but could not find the queen in either case. Since that time, there have been increasing complaints of 'hot' bees from that area, south to Castro Valley (Alameda County).”
Assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is doing research on genetic dispersion of AHBs around the state. He is collecting and freezing samples.
Bohls, a first-year doctoral student in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, received a $1000 prize. The two-day symposium took place April 7-8 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
Bohls began her presentation, “Efficacy of Several Biopesticides Against Varroa Mites,” with a brief overview of honey bees, discussed their importance and why they are dying, and then turned to her research on mite infestation. She studies with state Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the department's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Bohls' abstract: "Varroa destructor is an ectoparasitic mite on Apis mellifera; it feeds on hemolymph and vectors several pathogens. The purpose of this efficacy and safety trial was to determine the level of Varroa mite control provided by several biopesticides in a systems approach and to determine the safety to bees and honey yield variables. These experiments were conducted at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Five groups of eight to ten established colonies with infestations of Varroa mites were selected for the experiments. All colonies were contained within the same apiary and began with 2 percent mite levels. Each of the five groups of honey bee colonies were randomly assigned a treatment: positive control, Product A (low and high dose), Product B, untreated control. The level of Varroa mite infestation was determined with an alcohol wash prior to the treatment, three times during, and at the end of the treatment. Effects on colony strength were measured by counting the number of frames of adult bees, brood, honey, and pollen before, during, and after the treatment."
A native of Macedonia, Ohio, Bohls joined the UC Davis doctoral program last fall. She is involved with public outreach and extension in the Niño lab, assisting with beekeeping workshops and short courses. She recently delivered a presentation to the American Honey Producers' Association convention.
Bohls received her bachelor's degree from Hiram (Ohio) College in May 2015, double-majoring in neuroscience and environmental studies and minoring in biology. In independent studies at Hiram, she conducted a wasp survey at the James H. Barrow Field Station, comparing wasp diversity in newer vs. older growth forests. She also served as a research assistant with Thomas Koehnle at the field station where she studied eastern gray squirrels with a variety of population sampling procedures, including home range studies, time area counts, and transects. She conducted an anti-predator behavior study on the eastern gray squirrel, extensively comparing the behavior of the two color morphs of the eastern gray squirrel.
In addition, Bohls developed a citizen science butterfly program at the field station. As a research assistant, Bohls worked on a butterfly population study at the field station's Monarch Waystation, comparing the population and species differences of butterflies in a field before and after a controlled burn.