The Celebration of Life and Legacy of UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, held Aug. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, drew a standing-room only crowd who shared and applauded the many facets of his life: family man, bee scientist, athlete, angler, birder, photographer, humorist and a singer (doo wop).
They all remembered that engaging smile, a smile that could melt frozen ice cream (a dessert he loved).
Members of California's beekeeping and almond industries--Team Eric--came out in force to honor their hero, their mentor, their confidant, their friend. Some traveled from as far away as Washington state and Idaho.
UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal live-streamed the event and posted it today on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Kj5NuQ_rBuo.
Dr. Mussen, who preferred to be called "Eric," was an internationally known 38-year Extension apiculturist and an invaluable member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty since 1976. He died Friday, June 3 in his Davis home at age 78 from aggressive liver cancer.
Although Eric retired in 2014, he continued his many activities until a few weeks prior to his death. For nearly four decades, he drew praise as “the honey bee guru,” “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media sought answers about honey bees. Colleagues described him as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide,” “a treasure to the beekeeping industry," and "a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees.” Among who sought his expertise: The Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, National Public Radio (Science Friday), The New York Times, Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times.
The Aug. 28th celebration opened with a welcome by Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who introduced Chancellor Gary May.
"Eric was a cherished friend to everyone here, to the UC Davis community, to his colleagues, to scientists and researchers, to agricultural growers and 4-H-ers, and to beekeepers and bee enthusiasts everywhere," the chancellor told the crowd. "He meant so much to the university and his work benefited us all. He represented the absolute best of UC Davis. He was an internationally recognized expert, dedicated to his work, and passionate about helping others and making the world a better place to be. His legacy will endure. It will endure through his research contributions and extension activities that served beekeeping operations across California and the nation. It will endure through the practices he helped put in place, sharing information with beekeeping groups. It will endure through the next generation of apiculturists he helped inspire. We'll remember his impact as the 'honey bee guru.' Much more than that, Eric will be remembered for his generosity, his kindness and his passion."
Emcee Gene Brandi, an icon in the bee industry and a family friend, served with Eric for 37 of his 39 years on the California State Beekeeping Association's Board of Directors. He currently chairs the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., and also served as president of American Beekeeping Federation and chaired both the California Apiary Board and National Honey Board.
One of Gene's many memorable comments: “To paraphrase a good friend of mine, (beekeeper) John Miller, “The people who really make a difference in this life are those who make things better. Eric Mussen made things better for the honey bee, beekeepers and the entire beekeeping industry and for that we are very grateful.”
There were scores of memorable comments from the speakers:
- Robert “Bob” Curtis, Carmichael, former director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California
- Ettamarie Peterson, veteran 4-H beekeeping project leader of the Liberty 4-H Club, Petaluma, a past president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association, and a close friend of Eric's.
- Glenda Humiston, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (virtual eulogies)
- Elina Lastro Niño, UC Extension apiculturist who also read the text of UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary, who was unable to attend
- Diane Ullman, professor and former chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Mary Lou Flint, an emeritis associate director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program, and an emeritus Extension entomologist, Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Walter Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor and former chair of the then Department of Entomology
- Michael Parrella, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho, and a former chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- And so many more...
Adding to the celebration: a memory table from the Mussen family; bee pins to all the guests from the National Honey Board; a bee observation hive display from UC Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), and Wendy Mather, program manager of CAMPB; honey straw donations from JoshuaZeldner, Amina Harris of Z Specialty Food, LLC; and ice cream donations from Haagen-Dazs (HD). Eric worked closely with HD especially during the colony collapse disorder phenomenon and the installation of the UC Davis Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
Olive and Vine of UC Davis catered the event. CreaTions N' Events of Sacramento provided a bee-themed cake, complete with a skep and honey bees.
"The world," said Dr. Leal, a former chair of the Department of Entomology who knew Eric well, "is a lesser place without Eric."
Eric is survived by his wife, Helen Mussen, sons Timothy Mussen (Noelle) of Rancho Cordova, and their children Amber and Alex; Christopher Mussen (Jacqueline Silva), of Davis; his younger brother Alan Mussen (Lynda) and their daughter, Allie and husband, Nick Arnold, all of Peru, N.Y.; and other relatives in New York and Michigan.
Memorial contributions may made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program, with a note, "Eric Mussen Memorial Fund." Checks may be be made out to:
California 4-H Foundation
Attn: Development Services (Eric Mussen Memorial Fund, California State 4-H Beekeeping Program)
2801 Second Street
Davis, CA 95618
That story will be among the highlights of the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 16 in Room 1124 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the year the California State Legislature singled it out to be the state insect.
Professor Fran Keller of Folsom Lake College, a UC Davis doctoral alumnus and author of the children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly, will read the 35-page book to children and parents at 1:30 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m. in the Wildlife Classroom, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, located next door to the Bohart Museum in the Academic Surge Building.
The book features photos by Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas and Professor Keller, and illustrations by former UC Davis student Laine Bauer. The California dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, found only in California, thrives at its major breeding ground, the Shutamul Bear River Preserve, a private preserve maintained by the Placer Land Trust (PLT).
It is there because its host plant, false indigo, Amorpha californica, is there, points out Kareofelas, who has reared multiple California dogface butterflies from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. He serves as a volunteer docent for the PLT's Shutamul Bear River Preserve.
"Most people have never seen a single dogface butterfly (in the wild)," says Kareofelas. On a June 10th tour of the preserve, held specifically for the Bohart Museum, the group saw 75 to 100 dogface butterflies.
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored the butterfly populations of Central California for 50 years, said he has never seen 100 Zerene eurydice in his lifetime. He maintains a research site, Art's Butterfly World.
False indigo (Amorpha), its only known host plant, "is a rather inconspicuous shrub found with poison oak, willow, etc. near streambanks, often along boulder-strewn tributary streams in side canyons where access is very difficult," Shapiro says on his website.
1 p.m.: Event starts
Tabling: Placer Land Trust information table, Greg Kareofelas with live caterpillar/rearing project
- Craft: Yellow felt dogface butterflies shoe/hair/belt/wrist ornaments
- Craft: Color the dogface butterfly life cycle (paper or for $8.50 for bandanna)
- Craft: Paper caterpillar puppet
- Petting Zoo (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, tartantulas)
- Butterfly collection exploration with entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the Lepidoptera collection
- Butterfly banner photo-op
1:30 p.m.: Professor and author Fran Keller reads The Story of the Dogface Butterfly in the Wildlife Classroom
2:30 p.m.: Communication specialist Julia Boorinakis Harper Barbeau of Placer Land Trust shows four-minute video and Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas gives a talk/powerpoint about the history of the dogface (5-10 minutes) in the Wildlife Classroom
3 p.m.: Celebration dessert in the hallway with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology
3:30 p.m.: Professor and author Fran Keller reads The Story of the Dogface Butterfly in the Wildlife Classroom
4 p.m.: Event ends
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens. It also maintains a live petting zoo and an insect-themed gift shop (including T-shirts, hoodies, books, jewelry, posters, collecting equipment)
When you first meet Brandon DeGroot, 6, of Vallejo, he'll tell you "I love spiders and snakes" and he'll flash a big smile.
He's the kind of youngster that arachnologists, including Professor Eileen Hebets of the University of Nebraska and Professor Jason Bond, of the University of California, Davis, welcome to their fold.
Bond, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is chairing the American Arachnological Society's meeting June 26-30 at UC Davis with Lisa Chamberland, postdoctoral research associate, Department of Entomology and Nematology, and Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences.
An open house, "Eight-Legged Encounters," set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 25 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will kick off the conference. Hebets is co-hosting it as part of a U.S. National Science Foundation grant, “Eight-Legged Encounters,” that she developed as an outreach project to connect arachnologists with communities, especially youth. It's free, open to the public, and family friendly.
The open house promises to be one of the biggest events--if not the leggiest!--of the year on the UC Davis campus and beyond. A powerhouse of arachnologists, Bond said, will be at the open house. “There will be everything--spider specimens, live arachnids, activities, artwork, etc."
Some 20 exhibits and activities will be set up in the hallway of the Academic Surge Building, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. A popular activity at the Bohart is its live petting zoo, comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches or "hissers," stick insects and tarantulas. Youths, especially, delight in holding the hissers and stick insects.
But back to Brandon.
"Brandon has always loved spiders, insects and snakes, starting when he was a toddler looking for bugs in our yard," said his mother, Heather DeGroot. "Brandon was always in the dirt, and my other son, Mason, now 8, was always in the grass." Last Tuesday, June 7, while Heather kept busy coordinating the Solano County Fair exhibits at McCormack Hall, in preparation for the June 16-19 fair, Brandon kept busy looking for critters outside. When he'd find one, he'd excitedly announce his treasure, and even more excitedly, show it to all.
So, in between his bug hunts, we thought we'd interview Brandon.
Bug Squad: "How old are you?
Brandon: "I'm six and I go to kindergarten at Vallejo Charter School. I'm almost in the first grade." (He graduated from kindergarten June 9.)
Bug Squad: "Brandon, how long have you loved spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "A long time."
Bug Squad: "Cool! Why do you love spiders?"
Brandon: "I like the poison and how they eat."
Bug Squad: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Brandon?"
Brandon: "I want to be a scientist about animals. See my snake tattoo on my arm?" (He displayed the washable tattoo that tattoo artist Jason Meyers of Concord created just for him.)
Bug Squad: "Fantastic! What makes you happy?"
Bug Squad: "Does your brother Mason like snakes and spiders?"
Brandon: "No, he only likes BMX." (Mason will be competing as part of Team USA at a BMX competition in Nance, France in July. The entire family will be there to support him.)
Bug Squad: "Why doesn't Mason like spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "He doesn't want to get hurt by them."
Bug Squad: "Do you like bees?"
Brandon: "I like bees. They pollinate the flowers and make them change colors. I like ladybugs and I like letting them crawl on me. I like walking sticks. I saw them on YouTube and they look just like sticks."
Bug Squad: "Do you like ants?"
Brandon: "I like ants but I don't like fire ants." (He sees fire ants on family trips to Houston, Texas.)
Bug Squad: "Do you like butterflies?"
Brandon: "I like them because of their colors."
Bug Squad: "Do you like dragonflies?"
Brandon: "I like how fast they fly and they nibbled on my family at the Yuba River but they didn't nibble on me."
Bug Squad: "Brandon, do you like sports or play sports?"
Brandon: "I played basketball and I'm going to learn to play tennis."
Bug Squad: "Do you like girls?"
Brandon (raising his eyebrows): "No, I like dogs."
Bug Squad: "Do you have a dog?"
Bug Squad: What's your favorite food?"
Brandon: "Strawberries and chocolate."
And with that, he opened his lunch box, picked out a strawberry, and shared it with a bug that he had just collected in the McCormack Hall gardens.
"Here you go," Brandon told the bug, later identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, as an aphid. "I'm feeding you so you won't get hungry."
They crafted tadpole shrimp-themed hats and puppets using paper plates and googly eyes.
And they asked questions. Lots of questions.
It was all part of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, themed "Bugs in Ag: What Is Eating Our Crops and What Is Eating Them?" The event, held May 28 and free and open to the public, drew dozens of visitors ranging from toddlers to senior citizens.
Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger, an agricultural entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, and postdoctoral fellow Buddhi Achhami of the Grettenberger lab displayed pests of rice and alfalfa--as well as beneficial insects--and fielded questions. Bohart Museum volunteer and undergraduate student Omri Livneh assisted.
The Grettenberger lab showed KQED's Deep Look video, Tadpole Shrimp Are Coming For Your Rice. which includes Grettenberger's expertise.
"People enjoyed the event and learned about rice and agricultural pests, thanks to the Grettenberger lab special displays," commented Tabatha Yang, Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator who organized the event. She credited UC Davis doctoral student Grace Horne of the Emily Meineke lab with loaning additional USB scopes.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection, showcased butterfly and moth specimens, including Atlas moths and monarchs. He marveled at the knowledge of "budding scientist" 6-year-old Riley Laurel of Vacaville, who arrived with her father, Julius, and brother, Aidan, 2. It was their first visit to the Bohart Museum.
Bohart volunteer Barbara Heinsch, UC Davis graduate and environmental scientist and Chew staffed the arts and crafts table. Ellie Lindquist, 4, of Woodland and Kelsey Meng, 5, of Davis expressed delight in making tadpole shrimp-themed creations.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens; the petting zoo; and a year-around gift shop (also online), stocked with insect-themed gifts, such as t-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, posters, jewelry, books, puppets, candy and collecting equipment. It is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane.
The next open houses are scheduled June 25 and July 16. Like all of the Bohart Museum open houses, they are free and open to the public.
- Saturday, June 25, 1 to 4 p.m.
This open house is all about arachnids (think spiders) and will feature scientists from across the country. It is being held in collaboration with the American Arachnological Society's 2022 meeting, June 26-30m on the UC Davis campus and hosted by Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences. Arachnids also will be discussed at a public session on Tuesday, June 28, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in California Hall.
- Saturday, July 16, 1 to 4 p.m.
"Celebrating 50 years of the Dogface Butterfly: California's State Insect"
Scientists will join the public in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the California State Legislature' designation of the dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, as the state insect. Found only in California, the butterfly thrives in the 40-acre Shutamul Bear River Preserve near Auburn, Placer County. The preserve is part of the Placer Land Trust and is closed to the public except for specially arranged tours. At the July 16th open house, Folsom Lake College professor and Bohart scientist Fran Keller, and Bohart associate Greg Karofelas, a volunteer docent for the Placer Land Trust's dogface butterfly tours, will discuss the butterfly. Keller, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, authored the 35-page children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly (with photos by Keller and Kareofelas, and illustrations by former UC Davis student Laine Bauer.) Kareofelas and Keller also teamed to create a dogface butterfly poster of the male and female. Both the book and the poster are available online from the the Bohart Museum of Entomology gift shop. (Read more on how the butterfly became the state insect under the Ronald Reagan administration.)
They came to taste the honey, learn about the importance of honey bees, check out the bee observation hives, and to engage with beekeepers and merchants.
And to photograph and "bee" photographed with the costumed "Queen Bee" Wendy Mather, program manager of the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and a co-founder of the California Honey Festival, explained what the honey flavor wheel is and invited the crowd to sample honey varietals.
Harris estimated the crowd at 40,000. "I got laryngitis," she said.
She also is the self-described "Queen Bee" of the Z Specialty Food/The Hive, Woodland. Her son, "nectar director" Josh Zeldner, also greeted the crowd at his booth. (They later hosted an after-party at The Hive.)
Claire Tauzer of Tauzer Apiaries/Sola Bee Farms and her worker bees talked about the wonders of bees, the merits of honey and offered visitors a taste of their honey. They displayed a bee observation hive. (See news story about the Tauzers).
Jer and Ellen Johnson of Uncle Jer's Traveling Bee Show, Elk Grove, entertained the crowd with shows throughout the day. Like the Tauzers, the California Master Beekeeper Program, Mann Lake Bee Supply and others, the Johnsons also showed festival-goers their bee observation hive, pointing out the three castes (queen, workers and drones) and the roles they play.
It was, as they say, a honey of a festival.
The event, launched in 2017, didn't happen in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
But it buzzed back into Woodland last Saturday to a crowd absolutely craving camaraderie...and liquid gold.