- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
So, "Eric has left the building."
That would be Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who recently "unoccupied" his hive of an office on the third floor of Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Office space is at a premium, as it is elsewhere on campus.
Mussen, a 38-year Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, "officially" retired in 2014. But not really. He served as emeritus apiculturist in his Briggs headquarters for seven years, leaving in October 2021.
"As I walked out of the office door for the last time, it was like saying a permanent goodbye to a decades old friend," Mussen commented. "I had years of good times, a few disappointments, and no true desire to end my career. But it was time."
For nearly four decades, Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and short, topical articles called Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. His research focused on managing honey bees and wild bees for maximum field production, while minimizing pesticide damage to pollinator populations. His newsletter and Bee Brief collections will find their way into bound books, as will back editions of bee journals.
Mussen donated his bee books to the scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility and other literature to fellow scientists in the department.
The memories he is keeping.
During his 38-year career, Mussen was considered one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation. He was known as "the pulse on the bee industry” and as "the go-to person" for consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media. He was often described as:
- "The premier authority on bees and pollination in California
- "A treasure to the beekeeping industry" and
- "A walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees."
Among his scores of awards: the 2018 Founders' Award from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, presented at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) conference in Reno. Previous recipients of the coveted award include the husband-wife team of James and Maryann Frazier, professor and Extension apiculturist, respectively, from Pennsylvania State University, University Park; former research leader Jeff Pettis, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville (Md.) Bee Laboratory; and multi-state commercial beekeeper David Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries, who sounded the alarm about colony collapse disorder (CCD) in 2007.
Mussen served as a longtime board member of the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and a consultant for the Almond Board of California. He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), serving six terms as president, the last one during the 40th anniversary meeting at UC Davis in 2017. He also was involved in the formation of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) and held the offices of president or treasurer of that association for many years.
Almond Board. Mussen was instrumental in the development of the Almond Board of California's Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds. The Almond Board earlier honored him with a service award, describing him as being an “authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries.”
Mussen was a favorite of local, regional, state and national news media. The outlets included Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, New York Times, National Public Radio, The Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times, among others.
“Eric is a worldwide authority on honey bees, but no problem is too small and no question too involved for him to answer,” said the late Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey prior to Mussen's retirement. “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.”
Co-Founded WAS. Mussen served as a longtime board member of the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and a consultant for the Almond Board of California. He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), serving six terms as president, the last one during the 40th anniversary meeting at UC Davis in 2017. He also was involved in the formation of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) and held the offices of president or treasurer of that association for many years.
He delivered keynote addresses at the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and at the American Honey Producers' Association conventions. In addition, he held leadership roles in the 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. He represented UC Davis on the California State Apiary Board, and continues to offer input to the California Department of Food and Agriculture on various bee matters.
Highly honored by his peers, Mussen received the 2006 California Beekeeper of the Year award, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists' 2007 Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture, the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America; the 2010 statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator, and was a member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the 2013 team award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
Outstanding Extension. His other awards include the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota; and the 2014 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
As Extension apiculturist, Mussen served on various committees and task forces of state and national organizations, reviewed numerous manuscripts for journals; reviewed annual research proposals to the California State Beekeepers' Association, the Almond Board of California, and the National Honey Board; and reviewed Small Business Innovation Research applications at the federal level. He assisted U.S. beekeepers in writing letters to receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their colony collapse disorder (CCD) bee losses.
Elina Lastro Niño, known internationally for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics, succeeds Mussen as Extension apiculturist. She joined the faculty in September of 2014 and maintains laboratories and offices in Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Native of New York. 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. 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 related.
Mussen turned down a football scholarship at Harvard to attend the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he obtained his bachelor's degree in entomology. That's also where he would meet his future wife, Helen.
Eric went on to obtain his master's degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. His doctoral research focused on the epidemiology of a viral disease of larval honey bees, sacbrood virus.
Fast track--or fast beeline--to today. Eric and Helen continue to reside in their home in Davis (email email@example.com) and enjoy the "bees-e-ness" of life with friends and family, who include two sons and two grandchildren.
The memories of his 38-year career, however, remain strong, like the bee colonies he treasured.
"As I walked out of the office door for the last time, it was like saying a permanent goodbye to a decades old friend," Mussen reiterated. "But it was time."
--"Eric!!! What a career serving the bee industry and looking after honey bees. I will always recall you giving me the key to your office to set there to finish writing my Ph.D. Thank you for the support and encouragement. You are a good man."
--"He will remain one of my favorite people in the bee world! We loved it when he came to visit every year!"
--"Well done, Eric, thank you for your good works for Bees and Beekeeping...and for your courtesies when l visited you in 1986... enjoy your retirement."
--"The man who changed the bee pollination business for the better not just in California. All commercial beekeepers cry for him leaving."
--"A true legend."
--"Have a nice time ahead and keep watching bees."