Dr. Mussen, known as "Eric," died Friday, June 3 of liver cancer at age 78.
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Eric joined the UC Davis entomology department on July 1, 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.
Born May 12, 1944 in Schenectady, N.Y., Eric received his bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts (after declining an offer to play football at Harvard) and then obtained his master's degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and 1975, respectively. 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.
Bees became his life, and Eric thoroughly enjoyed his career. For nearly four decades, he 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.
Gene Brandi, the 2018 president of the American Beekeeping Federation, remembers presenting him with the prestigious Founders' Award from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation conference in Reno in 2018. "Eric received a well-deserved rousing standing ovation!” said Brandi, extolling him as "an outstanding liaison between the academic world of apiculture and real-world beekeeping and crop pollination."
"Eric was a legend in the beekeeping world who was always willing to go the extra mile to help beekeepers and bee industry organizations deal with issues pertaining to honey bee health, regulations, and various threats to the industry," Brandi said. "He also helped agricultural organizations, government officials, and the general public better understand the value of honey bees to the world. Eric was a great advocate for the honey bee and beekeepers. He was truly a national treasure.
"Eric served on the California State Beekeepers Association Board of Directors for 39 years as apiculturist, but he also was the parliamentarian for many years, and due to his long tenure, was quite the historian as well," Brandi added. "He co-founded the Western Apicultural Society and served as president for six terms. He founded the American Association of Professional Apiculturists and was either president of secretary/treasurer for the first ten years."
"In addition to his work with the aforementioned organizations, Eric was the UC Honey Bee Liaison to California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, EPA, California Farm Bureau Federation, Almond Board of California, National Honey Board, California Bee Breeders' Association, and others. Eric was always willing to help the beekeeping industry by testifying at hearings or writing letters to support the bee industry on various issues. He received many awards from a number of organizations, but the ones with which I am most familiar are the California State Beekeepers Association Distinguished Service Award as well as the Beekeeper of the Year Award. The Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees honored Eric in 2018 with the coveted Founders; Award.
Brandi related that "Eric also conducted a number of research projects over the years including research on sacbrood virus, effects of medfly sprays on honey bees, effects of antibiotics of honey bee brood, potential of Neem as a varroa control, effects of selected fungicides on honey bee brood, effects of antibiotics, and effects of high-fructose corn syrup on packaged bee development. Eric's "From the UC Apiaries" newsletter was a renowned publication which contained valuable information about current events in the beekeeping world which beekeepers needed to know. There is so much more that can be said about Eric and his many contributions to the beekeeping world."
When Mussen was nominated (and received) the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota, wrote: "Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world. Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”
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.
When the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) meets Jan. 9-13 at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno, Nev. for its 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation Conference & Tradeshow, the key concern is bee health.
Sadly, colony losses continue to take their toll.
Our nation's honey bee colonies are down slightly for operations with five or more colonies, according to statistics released Aug. 1, 2017 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In its news release, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service noted that "Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies in the United States on January 1, 2017 totaled 2.62 million colonies, down slightly from January 1, 2016. The number of colonies in the United States on April 1, 2017 was 2.89 million colonies. During 2016, honey bee colonies on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 were 2.62 million, 2.80 million, 3.18 million, and 3.03 million colonies, respectively."
Honey bee colony loss (for operations with five or more colonies) amounted to 362,000 colonies or 14 percent. "The number of colonies lost during the quarter of April through June 2017 was 226,000 colonies, or 8 percent," according to the USDA news release. "During the quarter of October through December 2016, colonies lost totaled 502,000 colonies, or 17 percent, the highest of any quarter in 2016. The quarter in 2016 with the lowest number of colonies lost was April through June, with 330,000 colonies lost, or 12 percent."
And again, no surprise: the No. 1 colony stressor was that dreaded varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and the viruses it can transmit. The parasitic mites suck the blood (hemolymph) from both the adults and developing brood, especially drone pupae.
The ABF conference will zero in on the varroa mite at several presentations on Thursday, Jan. 10:
- "Selecting for Behavioral Resistance to Varroa Destructor"--Krispn Given, Apiculture Specialist, Purdue University Department of Entomology, West Lafayette, Ind.
- "RNA Viruses and Varroa Mites: Temporal Variation in Honey Bee Pathogens Influences Patterns of Co-Infection"--Alex Burham, University of Vermont, Burllngton, Va.
- "Engaging Beekeepers with MiteCheck: Implementing a Nationwide Citizen Science Program for Monitoring and Comparing Varroa destructor Infestations"--Rebecca Masterman, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.
Overall, the diamond-anniversary conference will focus on educational sessions, social and networking activities "and lots of opportunities to learn about new products and services," according to ABF president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, a bee industry leader for four decades. He currently manages some 2000 colonies in central California with his son.
Morris Weaver of Montgomery, Texas, the 1975-76 ABF president, will deliver the keynote presentation on "The American Beekeeping Federation, Inc.: 75 Years Strong."
Attendees can choose from five track sessions: small scale beekeepers; serious sideliners; package bee and queen breeders; honey producers and packers; and commercial beekeepers. Registration also will take place at the door.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, will present two honey-tasting workshops: "Taste and Evaluate Honey: Matching Flowers to Flavors."
This week is truly a gathering of bee scientists and beekeepers. In conjunction with the ABF conference, the American Bee Research Conference will take place Jan. 11-12 in Reno. Marla Spivak, MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, University of Minnesota, is the keynote speaker.
Brandi will deliver his presentation on "Beekeeping in California: An Overview of Colony Management," covering the seasonal management of bees and their population cycle, at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). He will discuss both managed and non-managed colonies.
Brandi, involved in bee industry activities over the past 40 years, chaired the National Honey Board for three years, and served 37 years on the California State Beekeepers' Association Board of Directors, including a year as president in 2016-17. He and his son currently manage about 2000 colonies in Central California.
Brandi, who holds a bachelor of science degree in ag business from California Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo, in 1974, is heavily involved with bees. Among his many activities, he chaired the California Apiary Board from 1992 to 1995; served on the Project Apis m board from 2006 to 2016, and has been a member of the California Almond Board Bee Task Force since 2004 and a member of Carl Hayden Bee Research Center's Industry Liaison Committee since 2002. The USDA research center is located in Tucson.
The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference will filled with educational topics, networking, field trips, a silent auction, door prizes and just plain "bee" fun, says honey bee guru and WAS co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who is serving his sixth term as president.
The conference is open to all interested persons and registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/
WAS, founded at UC Davis, is a non-profit organization that represents mainly small-scale beekeepers in the western portion of North America, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and Arizona. Beekeepers across North America will gather to hear the latest in science and technology pertaining to their industry and how to keep their bees healthy.
The inaugural California Honey Festival, to take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 6 on a four-block stretch in historic downtown Woodland, will draw folks from all over state and beyond. And it's free and open to the public.
Coordinated by Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, the festival will offer honey sampling, mead, live bands, talks on beekeeping and bee friendly plants, and vendors offering bee-related wares. And that's just the "bee-ginning."
At the Honey Lab, located in the UC Davis booth, members of the UC Davis Master Beekeeper Program and knowlegeable volunteers will teach festival-goers about "all things honey."
Some of the activities at the Honey Lab booth:
- Taste honey from around the world and check out the giant honey flavor and aroma wheel
- Learn about UC Davis beekeeping and the California Master Beekeeper Program
- Follow how honey is made from flower to bottle
- Marvel at the life cycle of a honey bee, starting with an egg and resulting in a bee just a couple weeks later
- Learn what is harming our bees
- Peruse the different kinds of bee hives and how they work
- Purchase books and UC Davis honey from the UC Davis bookstore
"The California Honey Festival's mission is to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public," said Harris. "Through lectures and demonstrations, the festival will help develop an interest in beekeeping by the younger generation. Attendees will learn about the myriad of issues that confront honey bees including pesticide use, diseases and even the weather! In addition, attendees can learn how to creatively plant their gardens to help feed all of our pollinators. It is important for the community to appreciate and understand the importance of bees as the lead pollinator of many of our crops adding to the food diversity we have come to enjoy."
Brandi, who spoke at a 2015 symposium at UC Davis, said that the major issues that negatively impact colonies include pesticides, varroa mites, nutritional issues and diseases. "It's much more difficult to keep bees alive and healthy today than it was in the 1970s," he told his audience. "I had a 5 percent winter loss in the 1970s, and a 13 to 45 percent winter loss in his operation during the past 10 years."
Among the many other speakers: Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, booked from 11 to 11:45 a.m. and from 2 to 2:45 p.m., and Billy Synk, director of pollination programs for Project Apis m., and former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Honey Bee Facility at UC Davis. Sync speaks from 12 to 12:45.
The California Honey Festival website includes a program schedule.
Expect lots of honey--which has been described as "the soul of a field of flowers."