Let's put the "thanks" in THANKSgiving by bee-ing thankful for the honey bee, Apis mellifera...
If your table includes pumpkin, cranberries, carrots, cucumbers, onions, apples, oranges, cherries, blueberries, grapefruit, persimmons, pomegranates, pears, sunflower seeds, and almonds, thank the bees for their pollination services.
Spices? Thank the bees, too. Bees visit the plants that eventually become our spices. Among them: sage, basil, oregano and thyme.
Milk and ice cream? Yes. We remember the late UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, telling us that even milk and ice cream are linked closely to the honey bee. Cows feed on alfalfa, which is pollinated by honey bees (along with other bees).
Have you read the excessive heat warnings and the guidelines to prevent heat illnesses as triple-digit temperatures hold us hostage in Yolo and Solano counties and elsewhere?.
UC Davis Safety Services related this week:
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Keep potable water on hand at all times for consumption. It is recommended to ingest approximately four 8-ounce cups of fresh water per hour
- Cool off in well shaded or air-conditioned areas.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting and light-colored clothing.
- If possible, stay indoors and avoid strenuous work during the hottest part of the day.
- Minimize direct exposure to the sun whenever possible and wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
- Never leave children, disabled adults, or pets in parked vehicles.
- Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes.
But what about the feral honey bee colonies?
All honey bee colonies must maintain a temperature of 94 degrees, or the brood (eggs, larvae and pupae), will be adversely impacted, as the late Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (1944-2022) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology used to say. When the inside temperature rises above 94 Fahrenheit, bees resort to (1) bringing more water into the colony to cool it down and (2) bee bearding, meaning that some of the adults will leave the colony and "beard" just outside the entrance to help reduce the heat load inside. The "bearders" are helping their brothers and sisters-to-be survive.
That said, it was interesting this week to see the bee-bearding phenomenon on a feral honey bee colony in a sycamore tree on the UC Davis campus. Most people and bicyclists wouldn't notice it, unless they're inclined to look up 30 feet.
Bees know what they're doing,. and they've been bearding for millions of years. So, no poking, no prodding, no choking them with smoke, no dousing them with water. Or worse, what if a passerby panics and calls an exterminator?
Just leave 'em alone. The bees know what they're doing.
They're engaging in thermoregulation. When the temperature drops below 94, they'll cluster and shiver their wing muscles to keep the colony warm. If the temperature rises above the required temperature, the worker bees will gather more water and deposit the droplets inside the hive so other bees can fan and cool the colony. Bearding is part of the process.
As Mussen told us: "Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water. Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do. Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food. They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive. Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."
"On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease," Mussen noted. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."
We could learn a thing or two from the bees.
(See the bee activity on this UC Davis campus 'bee tree' on a YouTube video)
Mussen (1944-2022) was an institution. He was a global authority of honey bees. He was family to everyone. He joined our UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 1976, and although he retired in 2014, he continued his work.
So, every year since 2010 I've posted the "Thirteen Bugs of Christmas," and it seems right that I do so again.
Here's the story: Back in 2010, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (now emeritus) and yours truly of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology decided that "The 12 Days of Christmas" ought to be replaced with insects.
Why not? "Entomology" means "insect science," and it's the holiday season so why not change "five gold rings" to "five golden bees?" And add some other insects and pests, as well.
Note that the original "Twelve Days of Christmas," published in 1780, features no insects. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Just a partridge in a pear tree, 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.
Didn't seem fair.
So "five gold rings" became "five golden bees." Mussen sang the innovative song at the department's holiday party. The lyrics went viral when U.S. News picked it up:
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."
Today the song is still making the rounds, but with some different pests--pests that challenge the entomologists in the California Department of Food and Agriculture:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
One the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two peach fruit flies
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three false codling moths
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four peach fruit flies
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gypsy moths
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six white striped fruit flies
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven imported fire ants
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight longhorn beetles
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine melon fruit flies
On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten brown apple moths
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven citrus psyllids
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve guava fruit flies.
On the 13th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, thirteen Japanese beetles
And, then, of course, there's that dratted pest, the Varroa destructor (varroa mite) from Asia, which arrived in the United States in 1987. Known as the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers, this external parasitic mite not only sucks a bee's lifeblood, but can transmit debilitating viruses. This is not what you want for Christmas--or any other time.
Rest in peace, Eric. We miss you.
CSBA paid tribute to the late Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Carnes Mussen (1944-2022) at a memorial luncheon during its 2022 convention, held in Reno, and also awarded its seventh annual Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award, launched when he retired in 2014.
"The Eric Mussen Memorial Luncheon was a wonderful celebration of someone that was so key to the beekeeping industry," said CSBA associate director Brooke Palmer. "I was never fortunate enough to meet Eric, but witnessing how much love and appreciation there was for him at that lunch, anyone would be able to understand the impact he made on the people in this industry. We were so glad to be able to honor Eric and will continue to honor him with our Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award that is given out every year at convention."
An estimated 150 attended the luncheon, which Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and emcee Gene Brandi of Los Banos helped coordinate with Palmer. An image of Mussen centerpieced each table. Brandi, who served with Mussen for 37 of his 39 years on the CSBA Board of Directors, shared his presentation that he delivered on the Life and Legacy of Eric Mussen, held Aug. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge. (See YouTube). Brandi, current chair of the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., is a past president of American Beekeeping Federation and former chair of the California Apiary Board and National Honey Board.
John Miller of Miller Honey Farms, addressed the crowd, offering memories of Eric and his expertise, and read a note from Mussen's widow, Helen. The family, including Helen and sons Chris and Tim, participated via Zoom.
Mussen joined the UC Davis entomology department in 1976. Although he 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.”
"Thank you for coming together to honor Eric with this memorial luncheon at Convention 2022," Helen wrote in her address read by Miller. She related that she met Eric in 1966 at the University of Massachusetts. Initially, he wanted to become an insect ecologist, but "decided to learn about bees instead. It was a great choice for Eric who soon got over his dislike of being stung and learned about bee diseases and Minnesota beekeeping."
"Moving to California in 1976 for his first job in the beekeeping world was again a major adjustment," Helen recalled. "He listened and learned and cared, so soon he was taken into the 'fold' to educate each other. It was a perfect match for Eric as he wanted to help the bees and the beekeepers any way he could. He was a natural teacher and scientist and he found his niche with so many diverse folks eager to learn and work together with him to solve the many bee problems."
"Over the nearly 40 years of working together his CSBA clients became his friends and like family," Helen noted. "We all will miss him in so many ways but I hope you will keep the stories alive and remember and talk about him for many years to come. Thank you for all you've done to be a friend and care for Eric while also caring for the bees together. "
In tribute to his work, CSBA launched its annual Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award when he retired in 2014.
The recipients to date:
2015: Gordon Wardell, Ph.D
2016: Ila Hohmann
2017: Patti Johnson
2018: Troy Bunch
2019: Bob Brandi
2021: Jackie Park-Burris
2022: Ann Quinn
In a June 2022 tribute to Mussen, Jackie Park-Burris of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Inc., Palo Cedro, a leader in the queen bee breeding and beekeeping industries, said she met Eric more than 40 years ago “and from day one he was mentoring me. He was the bee guy for the entire country! Eric was the bee industry's connection to the scientific world. Eric understood both camps and he connected them. Eric had incredible integrity that I have never seen matched. Because of that integrity, beekeepers felt confident in sharing their problems with him, knowing their secrets were safe. Eric always voiced the opinion he felt was right, even if it wasn't the most popular.”
“Eric told me that he looked at the bee industry as his family,” said Park-Burris, a past president of CSBA, the first woman president of the California Bee Breeders Association, and the first woman chair of the California State Apiary Board. “When my son attended UC Davis, he and Helen made sure Ryan knew he could contact them if he needed anything. Eric even came to a function on campus that my son was in charge of to show support. Eric supported the California State Beekeepers Association and the California Bee Breeders wholeheartedly! He did an incredible job as our Extension guy from UC Davis. We loved him. What a sad loss for us all.”
After receiving the 2021 Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award, Park-Burris said that "Eric sent me an email, congratulating me and told me he could not think of a more qualified person to receive it. It bought a tear to my eye back then, now I will treasure that email even more.” A photo of an early-career Mussen appears on her website.
Palmer said nominations for the Eric Mussen Distinguished Service Award "may be presented to any person who has given time and professional talent to help further the goals of the beekeeping industry and the CSBA. This person need not be a CSBA member. We take award nominations all year and if anyone has an award nomination they can send it to me at email@example.com)."
The Paleolithic rock art depicts a person smoking a beehive. Also quite visible: the honeycomb and the bees. "The keeping of bees" dates back to 10,000 years ago when humans began maintaining colonies of wild bees in such artificial hives as hollow logs, wooden boxes, pottery vessels, or woven straw baskets (skeps), according to Wikipedia.
Mussen never talked much about the rock art or where he got it, but a quick TinEye reverse image search indicates the original apparently belongs to the International Bee Research Association (IBRA), which "promotes the value of bees by providing information on bee science and beekeeping worldwide."
The same image of the rock art appears in Eva Crane's book, "The Rock Art of Honey Hunters," published by IBRA in 2011. Then behavioral ecologist and nutrititional anthroplogist Alyssa Crittenden of the University of Nevada published "The Importance of Honey Consumption in Human Evolution" in December 2011 in the journal Food and Foodways, and used the same image (see ResearchGate).
The Crittenden abstract: "It has been suggested that honey may have been an important food source for early members of the genus Homo, yet the importance of meat and savanna plant foods continue to be stressed as the most relevant foods in dietary reconstructions. Here, the importance of honey and bee larvae in hominin diets is explored. Ethnographic reports, examples of Paleolithic rock art, and evidence from non-human primates are used to show that early hominins likely targeted beehives using the Oldowan tool kit. The consumption of honey and bee larvae likely provided significant amounts of energy, supplementing meat and plant foods. The ability to find and exploit beehives using stone tools may have been an innovation that allowed early Homo to nutritionally out-compete other species and may have provided critical energy to fuel the enlarging hominin brain."
The Smithsonian magazine's piece on "Humans, the Honey Hunters: Energy-Rich Honey May Have Helped Hominids Evolve Big Brains," published Dec. 19, 2011, also includes the illustration. Author Erin Wayman wrote that Crittenden considers honey a super food. "It's very energy dense, about 80 to 95 percent sugar, and it's a good source of the glucose needed to nurture brain development," Wayman wrote. "Wild honey also contains traces of bee larvae, adding fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. And on top of that, it's easy to digest. The nutritional benefits of honey are clear, but there is no concrete evidence in the fossil record of hominids eating honey; honey consumption doesn't leave behind the kind of scraps that can fossilize the way that hunting and butchering does. So Crittenden relies on some indirect clues to bolster her argument." (See more here.)
Eric considered "starthistle honey" his favorite honey varietal. If he were still with us, he'd be attending The HIVE's big anniversary party on Saturday, Nov. 12. It will take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1221 Harter Ave., Woodland.
HIVE Public Celebration. "We're celebrating 43 years in business as Z Specialty Food and the completion of our first year in our new home, The HIVE," Amina Harris, the Queen Bee of Z Specialty Food, wrote us in a Nov. 1 email. "This celebratory event includes a full schedule of interactive activities. Guests will learn how to taste honey and mead (honey wine), participate in tours of our production facility and pollinator gardens and relax in the courtyard while listening to live music from Royal Jelly Jive, The Gold Souls and Nathan Ignacio. For more information, visit our website: here."
Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, worked closely with Mussen. She wrote this about him in her tribute: "When I first came to California in the early 1980s, I was working with my husband establishing and growing a varietal honey company. One of the first people I met at UC Davis was Eric Mussen, the state apiculturist. Eric was someone who had a lot of answers to a lot of questions! Ever the educator, Eric was well versed in all of the issues of the bee world and readily shared his knowledge with any and everyone who asked. His answers were always down to earth and understandable, with his wry Midwestern sense of humor running underneath. You'd ask a question – and you always got an answer!"
Amina's husband, Ishai Zeldner, who died in 2018 at age 71, founded Z Specialty Food. Like Amina, Ishai was close friends with Eric Mussen.
And just like Eric, Ishai favored the honey varietal, starthistle./span>