WAS, which serves the educational needs of beekeepers from 13 states, plus parts of Canada, was founded in 1977-78 for “the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America,” said Mussen, who retired as Extension apiculturist in 2014 after a 38-year career. As emeritus, he continues to maintain an office on the third floor of Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The organization was the brainchild of apiculture professor Norm Gary (UC Davis faculty, 1962 to 1994), who patterned it after the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS). Gary participated in the EAS meetings as a graduate student at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., where he received his doctorate in apiculture in 1959.
“We grad students were encouraged to attend and speak at the meetings,” Gary related. “It was a wonderful opportunity for us to become acquainted with hobby beekeeping and to get public speaking experience as we reported research results at the meetings. Much of the success of EAS can be attributed to keeping expenses reasonable by using housing and services of university campuses during the summer, and taking advantage of the support provided by bee research faculty on those campuses.”
In 1977, Gary asked Mussen and Becky Westerdahl, then Gary's postgraduate research entomologist and now an Extension nematologist at UC Davis, to help him launch the new organization. Gary obtained the bylaws and other documents from EAS to use as a model. EAS also loaned WAS $1000 to support the fledging organization. The first fundraising project: a banquet dinner held at the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis. “I provided some really good honey beer that I was making at the time,” Gary said, “and I contacted several wine companies for gratis cases of mead.”
Gary served as the founding president in 1978; Mussen, vice president, and Westerdahl, secretary-treasurer.
“These activities perfectly complemented his extension beekeeping program,” Gary said. “ I participated for a few more years and gradually needed more time and energy for research and other activities. Eric has been a recognized leader since the beginning days, and he is still providing great support for WAS.”
Mussen was elected president six times: 1984, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009 and 2017. In addition, he has held the office of vice president six times. He went on to become an internationally known “honey bee guru,” with a “pulse on the bee industry” and as "the go-to person" for consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media.
A native of Schenectady, N.Y., Mussen credits his grandfather with sparking his interest in insects. His grandfather, a self-taught naturalist, would take his young grandson to the woods to point out flora and fauna.
Mussen received his bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts (after turning down an offer to play football at Harvard) and then received his master's degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and 1975, respectively. His doctoral research focused on the epidemiology of a viral disease of larval honey bees, sacbrood virus.
During his academic career, Mussen conducted a varied program focused mainly on his role as liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real world beekeeping and crop pollination. Mussen tackled many new challenges on honey bee health and pollination concerns, including mites, diseases, pesticides, malnutrition, stress, Africanized honey bees and the successful pollination of California's almond acreage.
He presented at national, state, and county beekeepers' meetings, as well as at agricultural organizations. He educated the beekeeping industry and general public with his bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, which he launched in 1976. He also wrote Bee Briefs, addressing such issues as diseases, pesticides and swarms. Both publications are on the departmental website at http://ucanr.org/sites/entomology/Faculty/Eric_C_Mussen/Apiculture_Newsletter/.
Mussen devoted his research and extension activities toward the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices, helping growers, consumers, UC Farm Advisors, agricultural commissioners, scientists, beekeepers, researchers, pesticide regulators, 4-H'ers, and state and national agricultural and apicultural organizations, among others.
Considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, Mussen received the prestigious American Association of Professional Apiculturists Award for Apicultural Excellence, California Beekeeper of the Year, Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America (PBESA); a team award hailing “the bee team” from PBESA; and the statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator Award.
Shortly before he retired, Mussen won the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, and the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
His nominators for the UC ANR award wrote that what sets Mussen apart from his Extension-specialist peers are these seven attributes:
- His amazing knowledge of bees
- His excellent communication skills in a diverse clientele, including researchers, Extension personnel, legislators,
commodity boards, grower organizations, pesticide regulators, students, news media, and beekeeping associations at the national, state and local levels,
- His eagerness to help everyone, no matter the age or stature or expertise, from an inquiring 4-H'er to a beginning beekeeper to a commercial beekeeper
- His ability to translate complicated research in lay terms; he's described as “absolutely the best”
- His willingness—his “just-say-yes” personality---to go above and beyond his job description by presenting multiple talks to every beekeeping association in California, whether it be a weekday, evening or weekend, and his willingness to speak at a wide variety of events, including pollinator workshops, animal biology classes, UC activities and fairs and festivals
- His reputation for being a well-respected, well-liked, honest, and unflappable person with a delightful sense of humor; and
- His valuable research, which includes papers on antiobiotics to control American foulbrood; fungicide toxicity in the almond orchards; the effect of light brown apple moth mating pheromone on honey bees; the effects of high fructose corn syrup and probiotics on bee colonies; and the invasion and behavior of Africanized bees. He is often consulted on colony collapse disorder and bee nutrition.
"Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world," said MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota. "Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”
Said Extension Specialist John Skinner of the University of Tennessee: “Eric is one of the most well-respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation. If I could select one person to represent the apicultural scientific community including research, regulation and extension, I would choose Eric.”
“Those of us in the bee industry who have been privileged to know and work with Eric appreciate his vast knowledge of honey bees and great communication skills," Gene Brandi, legislative chairman of the California State Beekeepers' Association. "Whether addressing scientists, beekeepers, growers, government officials, the media or anyone else, Eric can be relied upon to convey scientifically accurate information about honey bees and the beekeeping industry.”
Said native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis: "He has played an invaluable role as a linchpin between honey bee researchers and the beekeeping industry and the commodity groups which depend on honey bees for pollination of their crops. His knowledge of honey bees and their biology, management and colony health is highly valued by his colleagues and clients. Eric is not only our state expert on all topics relating to honey bees, but is sought after by national level organizations to participate on committees dealing with the most important concerns of the beekeeping industry."
Extension specialist Larry Godfrey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who nominated Mussen for the Pedro Ilic award, praised him as "a worldwide authority on honey bees, but no problem is too small and no question too involved for him to answer. “He devotes his research and extension activities to the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices. Eric helps growers, consumers, UC Farm Advisors, agricultural commissioners, scientists, beekeepers, researchers, pesticide regulators, 4-H'ers, and state and national agricultural and apicultural organizations. He ignites their interest in maintaining the health of bees, cultivates their friendship, and generously gives of his time and intellect.”
"With the decline of the honey bee population and the increase of the mysterious colony collapse disorder, his expertise is now more highly sought than ever,” Godfrey pointed out. “Any threat to honey bees is a threat to agriculture and a cause for his concern and a desire to assist. He is the only Extension Apiculturist in the UC system and in many regards, functions as the Extension entomologist for apiculture in the western U.S. and indeed, much of the country.”
Mussen co-founded and served as president of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists. He delivered keynote addresses to the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and to the American Honey Producers' Association. He also served in leadership roles in CSBA, the California Bee Breeders' Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers' Association, National Honey Board, American Beekeeping Federation, and the Northern California Entomology Society, among others.
His other activities included: serving as the UC Davis representative to the California State Apiary Board; offering input to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, particularly with the pesticide registration group; working closely with Cooperation Extension, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, researchers in the UC system, researchers at the USDA/ARS honey bee laboratories at Beltsville, Md; Baton Rouge, La.; Tucson, Ariz., Weslaco, Texas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
He also reviewed annual research proposals to the California State Beekeepers' Association, the Almond Board of California, and the National Honey Board, as well as Small Business Innovation Research applications at the federal level.
Highly sought by the news media for his expertise on bees, Mussen has appeared on the Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, and quoted in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times, among others.
Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who is serving his sixth term as WAS president, said designs should “fill an 8.5-x-11 inch sheet of paper.” In addition to the bee motif, previous winning designs have included the organization's name, date and meeting location.
The designs should be sent to Nancy Steward, Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies, 2100 X St., Sacramento, CA 95818 before March 15. A panel of judges will determine the winner.
WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is open to all interested persons. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon.
Mussen retired as the state's Extension apiculturist in 2014, after 38 years of service, but maintains an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus.
Founders of WAS, all affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: apiculturist/professor (now emeritus) Norman Gary, founding president of WAS; nematologist Becky Westerdahl, professor and Extension specialist, and Mussen. The year of the founding, all three were serving in the UC Davis Bee Biology Facility, now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee and Research Facility.
Molecular phylogeneticist Karl Kjer, the Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is the recipient of the 2016 Hodson Alumni Award, awarded annually by the University of Minnesota's Department of Entomology to a distinguished alumnus.
Kjer, who received two degrees from the University of Minnesota—his master's in 1988 and his doctorate in 1992--accepted the award from Stephen Kells, associate professor and chair of the department, and his close collaborator, professor Ralph Holzenthal, director of the Insect Museum. The award, established in 1998, memorializes Alexander Hodson, a former department chair.
Kjer delivered the University of Minnesota presentation on “Integrating Large Datasets, from Transcriptomes to Barcodes in Today's Phylogenetics" on May 18.
Kjer, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology last July following an 18-year career at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., is a co-founder of an international insect phylogentics team known as the 1000 Insect Transcription Evolution Project (1KITE). The project involved creating a database of transcriptomes or all the genes expressed in an insect at the time it is collected. The team developed state-of-the-art methods to analyze genetic data from the DNA of modern insects, and calibrate DNA “clocks” with fossil records. They then used massive super computers to estimate the pattern, and timing of insect evolution.
Kjer presented one of the 20 “Premier Presentations” at the 2015 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting last November in Minneapolis. (Watch YouTube video.) He presented a plenary lecture at the Barcode of Life meetings in Guelph Ontario as his first task after arriving in Davis last fall. (Watch YouTube video.)
“By necessity, the project was split into three phases, the first of which, involving the analysis of 1478 genes from 144 species, has been published,” Kjer wrote in his ESA abstract. He discussed the phylogenetic results from this paper. The second phase of the work involved dividing insects into taxonomic divisions, or subprojects, which include dragonflies, grasshoppers and their close relatives, mantids and roaches, true bugs and lice, bees, wasps and ants, beetles, lacewings and their close relatives, flies, caddisflies, and butterflies and moths. These subprojects include data from 1500 species, and 3500-4900 genes. He discussed the progress on the subprojects.
The research project reveals that insects originated some 450 million years ago, around the same time as the first plants and that together they shaped the Earth's earliest ecosystem. Insects, such as dragonflies and damselflies, inhabited the earth 150 million years before dinosaurs.
The 100-member research team from 10 countries also discovered that insects first took flight 400 million years ago and were flying 200 million years before any other animal did so.
Their work was featured in a cover story, Nov. 7, 2014, of Science.
"Insects did just about everything first," according to Kjer. "They were the first to form social societies, farm, and sing — just about anything you can imagine. Insects are the dominant players in almost all terrestrial ecosytems, and as such, they have a major impact on agriculture and human health.”
Kjer has served as the associate editor of Systematic Biology since 2001. A member of the Society of Systemic Biologists and the Molecular Biology and Evolution Society since 1994 and ESA in 1986, he was elected from 2008 to 2012 to the Systemic Biology Council.
Kjer recalled that as a youth, he narrowed his career choices to three: entomologist, medical doctor or music teacher. He then double-majored in biology and music, graduating magna cum laude, in 1982 from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. He taught music at a high school in Coon Rapids, Minn., for a year and then worked as a medical research lab technician in at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, Iowa City, until 1986.
After receiving his graduate degrees in entomology from the University of Minnesota, Kjer did postdoctoral work on lizards at Brigham Young University in Utah, before joining the faculty of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., where he served as a professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources and as a co-director of 1KITE. He also curated the Rutgers' insect collection.
At UC Davis, Kjer continues his teaching and research on phylogenetics and the integration of molecular biology and organismal biology. “I just love teaching and learning about insects,” he said. “I have been fascinated with them for as long as I can remember, and want to share this passion with our students at UC Davis. I believe that understanding evolution makes life richer.”
Kjer is the second UC Davis faculty member to receive the Hodson Alumni Award. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, now emeritus, received the award in 2013.
(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.
Staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk worked with and assisted photographer Anand Varma's needs for a year in the development of the illustrated article. Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service, served as a research fact-checker, contacted by National Geographic.
The article, authored by Charles Mann asked “Can the world's most important pollinators be saved?' and pondered “how scientists and breeders are trying to create a hardier honeybee.”
Varma's time-lapse video of 2500 images, showing the development of eggs to pupae to adults, was filmed at the Laidlaw apiary. Two still photos, of a bee in flight, and a close-up of an emerging worker bee, were also taken in the Laidlaw apiary.
In his article, Mann touches on RNAi and quotes bee researcher Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” as saying “If you target one specific area, the organism will always make an end run around it.” She advocates a “healthier, stronger” bee, or what Mann writes as “one that can fight (varroa) mites and disease on its own, without human assistance.”
Spivak was the keynote speaker at the Bee Symposium, hosted May 9 by the Honey and Pollination Center in the UC Davis Conference Center. It drew a crowd of 360.
Spivak and John Harbo of the USDA's research center in Baton Rouge, La. “both succeeded in breeding versions of hygienic bees by the late 1990s,” Mann writes. “A few years after that, scientists realized that hygienic bees are less effective as the mites grow more numerous.”
Both Spivak and Varma have presented TED talks on honey bees.
Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing