- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty since 1976, received the Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, he was praised as an outstanding apiculturist who does the university--and the nation--proud.
He was also roasted. Colleague Mark Epstein, senior insect biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, managed to obtain footage of Mussen singing doo-wop—off-key. The crowd roared.
So did Mussen.
Mussen sings doo wop as a member of a Davis Art Center-based group led by Frank Fox. “We were joking around at the end of a song, ‘Looking for an Echo,’ and we crashed,” Mussen acknowledged.
William Hutchison, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, presented Mussen with the award. The award memorializes Alexander C. Hodson, Department Head from 1960-1974 who died in 1996. The Hodson Graduate Alumni Award was established in 1998 to recognize and honor outstanding alumni of the Department of Entomology.
Mussen was nominated by former recipient Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Apiculture and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, and Gary Reuter, apiculture technician, both with the University of Minnesota. Faculty and staff from UC Davis contributed to the nomination package.
While visiting the University of Minnoesta, Mussen met with faculty members Spivak, Timothy Kurtti and Vera Kirchek and their students. Professor Kurtii is working on the permanent honey bee cell culture line. Kirchek, an associate professor and urban forester, is conducting research on the residue of neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides recently banned by the European Commission as being harmful to honey bees.
A native of Schenectady, N.Y., 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 those studies I also was involved in studies concerning sunflower pollination and control of a microsporidian parasite of honey bees, Nosema apis," Mussen recalled. "Now a new species of Nosema has displaced N. apis and is even more difficult to keep subdued."
“Given this foundation, he was confronted with many new challenges regarding honey bee health and pollination concerns when he arrived at UC Davis in 1976,” said Hutchison. “Some 37 years later, he is still actively ‘tackling’ these new challenges--mites, diseases, and Africanized honey bees, to name a few--to enhance the pollination success of California's diverse agricultural cropping systems, with considerable emphasis on almonds. In brief, he is in demand, and he continues to be the primary source for objective information on honey bee health, and pollination in California.”
"I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in the September of 2011. “Whatever I can do for bees, I do it...It doesn’t matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies. Bees are bees and the bees’ needs are the bees’ needs.”
Mussen, who plans to retire from UC Davis in June 2014, 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.
As a child, “my only concern was what if, by the time I went to college and became an entomologist, everything we wanted to know about insects was known,” Mussen told writer Mea McNeil for the American Bee Journal series.
"When he enrolled in graduate school, the only research opening was in the Basil Furgala lab," McNeil wrote. "Furgala, who researched bee viruses, took him to the apiary, grabbed a bee and let it sting him to make sure he could work there."
Mussen's nomination packet included the following comments:
- "Eric is without a doubt the epitome of a State Extension Specialist."
- "Without a doubt, Dr. Mussen is the premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and is one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide."
- "He is a treasure to the beekeeping industry... he is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees."
- "He is a trusted information source."
Considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, Mussen was named the California Beekeeper of the Year in 2006, won the American Association of Professional Apiculturists’ Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture in 2007, and in 2008 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America. He received the statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator Award in 2010. This year he and four other colleagues ("The Bee Team"--Neal Williams, Robbin Thorp, Brian Johnson and Lynn Kimsey) won the team award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
Mussen educates the beekeeping industry and general public with his bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, which he launched in 1976. It appears on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website, as does his Bee Briefs, addressing such issues as diseases, pesticides and swarms.
Mussen is a five-time president of the Western Apicultural Society, an organization he helped found in 1977. He was a founder and alternated between president and secretary/treasurer of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists for many years.
Mussen, who is the UC Davis representative to the California State Apiary Board, offers input to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, particularly with the pesticide registration group. He works 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.; and Tucson, Ariz., and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
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 scores of news media, including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times.