Internationally known honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, drew a rousing, standing ovation on Jan. 12 at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation's conference in Reno.
ABF president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, who presented him with the plaque, praised him as a outstanding liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real world beekeeping and crop pollination.
Considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, Mussen was known as the “pulse on the bee industry” and as "the go-to person" for consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media. Mussen retired in 2014 but continues answering bee questions. As an emeritus, he maintains an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The ABF is a 4700-member national organization dedicated to ensuring the future of the honey bee, Brandi said. The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, headed by president Joan Gunter of Towner, N.D., is a charitable research and education foundation that aims to preserve and protect honey bees.
Mussen, recipient of numerous state and national awards, has been described as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and is one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide" and “a treasure to the beekeeping industry... he is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees."
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.
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.”
Shortly after he retired, both the CSBA and WAS created an Eric Mussen Honorary Award to present to its outstanding members.
For 38 years, 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
During his tenure as Extension apiculturist, Mussen traveled to beekeeping clubs throughout the state, addressing some 20 beekeeping organizations a year. For the last 10 years, Mussen conducted the California State 4-H Bee Essay Contest, disseminating guidelines, collecting entries and chairing the judging.
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. This is also where he met Helen, his wife of 48 years. He holds a 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.
His activities could fill a book. (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Suffice it to say that Mussen is, and always has been, pro-bee. "I am basically all pro-bee; whatever I can do for bees, I do it,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part interview published in 2011. “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.”
The nationally awarded plaque “bee-speaks” of his work.
That incongruous belief that “Honey is bee vomit” is resurfacing on a number of YouTube channels, opinion pieces and other Internet posts. It's usually said with great glee: “Honey is bee vomit! It's bee puke! It's bee barf!”
Is it #FakeNews?
We asked noted honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus at the University of California, Davis, whose career in bee education spans four decades, to settle the issue. Although he retired in 2014, he keeps active. Last year he completed a term--his sixth--as president of the Western Apicultural Society. He maintains an office in Briggs Hall.
And he continues to answer questions about bees and honey.
“As for the bees and vomit issue, the explanation requires quite a bit of knowledge,” Mussen says. It's about an "expandable pouch called 'the honey stomach' (which we humans do not have) and a valve called the "proventriculus" (which we humans do not have)."
“As most people know, honey begins as a dilute sugar solution secreted by ‘nectaries,' sugar syrup-secreting glands which are located in flowers or in extra-floral nectaries,” Mussen explains. “Pollen is not a natural constituent of nectar. The nectar is sucked up by honey bees and it passes into an expandable pouch called the ‘honey stomach.' This is the pre-digestive part of the part of the digestive tract that honey bees use to bring water and nectar to the hive. In honey bees and other insects, this ‘crop' precedes the portions of the digestive tract used for digesting food. There is a unique valve between the crop and the ventriculus (midgut), called the ‘proventriculus,' that has rake-like projections that constantly pull particulates, like pollen grains, from the crop contents and push them along for digestion.”
“Then the film is again exposed to the air. That process repeats itself until the moisture content of the syrup falls below 20 percent. Evaporation is influenced significantly by the relative humidity. Since honey will ferment at moisture contents above 20 percent, it is important to leave the honey with the bees until it can be immediately processed in locations with high humidity. That honey will seem to be thin. During the summer in California, the ambient relative humidity is quite low--15 percent or less. In that case, honey produced in the Central Valley can have a moisture content of 13 to 13.5 percent. That honey is quite thick.”
As an aside, “pollen grains are likely to be found in honey,” Mussen says. “Wind-blown pollens can fall into flowers that are open faced. Pollen grains are collected by hairs on the bees' bodies. They can get onto the mouthparts and become consumed with the nectar. Nectar-processing bees may have eaten some pollen in the hive before processing the honey. This is how the pollen grains get into honey. They do not necessarily get consumed with the fresh nectar. Physical contaminants of honey have to be quite small, like pollen grains, since the bees ingest all their food by drinking it through a straw-like proboscis with a very small opening at the tip. Most of the physical contaminants are removed by the proventriculus.”
And here's the point: “Since honey never is mixed with digesting food in the intestinal tract, it is inaccurate to refer to honey as ‘bee vomit.' A dictionary definition of vomit includes ‘disgorging the stomach contents through the mouth.' Since a human does not have a crop, the stomach is in direct contact with the esophagus and mouth. In a bee, the proventriculus and crop are in direct contact with the mouth. The digestion of solid foods in bees begins in the ventriculus and there is no way that a honey bee can bring that food back through the proventriculus, or ‘vomit.'
Which begs the question: Why can't we enjoy honey for what it is, not for what it isn't?
We can. Mark your calendar to attend these two events: the second annual California Honey Festival on May 5 in downtown Woodland (it's held in partnership with the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center) and the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy (hosted by the Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) on March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center. The Bee Symposium will feature keynote speaker Thomas Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell University, New York.
Interested in beekeeping? UC Davis Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her lab will teach a number of classes this spring, beginning March 24, at the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus.
The schedule and links to the capsule information:
- Planning Ahead for Your First Hives: Saturday, March 24
- Working Your Colonies: Sunday, March 25
- Queen-Rearing Techniques Short Course: Saturday and Sunday, April 21-22 course; Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29 course
- Bee-Breeding Basics: Saturday, June 9
- Varroa Management Strategies: Saturday, June 16
Remember that iconic song, "The 12 Days of Christmas?" Published in 1780, it begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree?" Eleven more gifts follow: "2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, 4 calling birds, 5 gold rings, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans-a-swimming, 8 maids a'milking, 9 ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping."
The two innovators--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (with the department from 1976-2014 and now emeritus) and yours truly (with the department since 2005)--decided that "5 gold rings" ought to be "five golden bees." Why not? They also figured that varroa mites, and other pests of California agriculture, should be spotlighted.
They penned the lyrics for the department's holiday gathering. Then Mussen, who sings with a Davis-based doo wopp group, led the department in song.
That was supposed to be the end of it. Not so. It went viral when U.S. News picked it up.
Now it's time to revisit "The 13 Bugs of Christmas:"
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Kaphra beetles,
12 Diaprepes weevils,
11 citrus psyllids,
10 Tropilaelaps clareae,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 Aedes aegypti,
7 ash tree borers,
6 six spotted-wing Drosophila,
5 five gypsy moths,
4 Japanese beetles,
3 imported fire ants,
2 brown apple moths,
And a medfly in a pear tree."
Mussen, although retired in 2014, keeps bee-sy. This year he served as president (his sixth term) of the Western Apicultural Society and coordinated the conference, held on the UC Davis campus. He also continues to answer bee questions and recently updated the "13 Bugs of Christmas" lyrics:
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Japanese beetles,
12 guava fruit flies
11 citrus psyllids,
10 brown apple moths,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 longhorn beetles,
7 imported fire ants,
6 white striped fruit flies,
5 g-y-p-s-y m-o-t-h-s,
4 peach fruit flies,
3 false codling moths,
2 peach fruit flies,
And a grapevine moth in a pear tree."
The beekeepers will be there!
The California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) will meet for its 128th annual convention, Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 14-16, at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. The theme: "Inputs, Outputs and Expectations." Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross will deliver the keynote address at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday.
President Steve Godin of Visalia will helm the three-day conference, aided by first vice president Mike Tolmachoff, Madera; second vice president Brent Ashurst, Westmorland; and treasurer Carlen Jupe of Salida. Their scientific advisor is Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Niño will speak on "Research Stories from the Niño Lab" at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Staff research associate (and husband) Bernardo Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility will address the group at 10:30 a.m., Thursday on "Practical Solutions for the Beginner Beekeepers."
Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of UC Davis will lead a "Bridging the Gap" panel at 11 a.m., Thursday. Bee breeder-geneticist Sue Cobey of Washington State University, former manager of the Laidlaw facility, will speak at 1:30 p.m., Thursday on "Collecting Honey Bee Germplasm in Europe and the Impact on Genetic Diversity in the United States." Basically, it's about building a better bee.
Among the many speakers are
- Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping, Grass Valley, "Oxalic/Glycerin Application and Breeding for Mite Resistance," at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday
- Bob Curtis of the Almond Board of California will provide an update at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday
- Dennis vanEnglesdorp of the University of Maryland faculty and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership, whose topic is "Managing Reistance in Varroa Mite Populations" at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday
- Marla Spivak, MacArthur Fellow and McKnight Distinguished Professor in Entomology at the University of Minnesota, who will discuss "Bee Health and Social Immunity" at 11 a.m. Wednesday
All in all, it promises to be an educational and informative conference, centered on our littlest agricultural workers: the honey bees.
CSBA is headquartered at 1521 I St., Sacramento. The office can be reached at (916) 441-0302 or email@example.com.
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."