- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
“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.”
Today a nationally awarded plaque “bee-speaks” of his work.
Mussen is the recipient of the 2018 Founders' Award from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, presented Jan. 12 at the 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) conference in Reno.
“He received a well-deserved rousing standing ovation!” said president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, who presented him with the plaque and 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.
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, 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.
Mussen worked closely with Cooperation Extension, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, researchers in the UC system, researchers at the USDA/ARS honey bee laboratories at Beltsville, Md.; Baton Rouge, La.; Tucson, Ariz., Weslaco, Texas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
Highly sought by the news media for his expertise on bees, Mussen has appeared on the Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, and quoted in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Boston Globe, and 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.”
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.
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, he 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 CCD bee losses.
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. "During those studies I also was involved in studies concerning sunflower pollination and control of a microsporidian parasite of honey bees, Nosema apis," Mussen recalled. "Now a new species of Nosema has displaced N. apis and is even more difficult to keep subdued."
William Hutchison, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, commented in 2013 that Mussen tackled many new challenges--mites, diseases, and Africanized honey bees, to name a few--to enhance the pollination success of California's diverse agricultural cropping systems, with considerable emphasis on almonds. In brief, he is in demand, and he continues to be a primary source for objective information on honey bee health and pollination in California.”
Today, in between his family commitments (he and his wife have two sons and two grandchildren) Mussen engages in birding, singing doo-wop and reviewing grant proposals: he reviews funding proposals for Project Apis m., which makes funding decisions and handles the funds for the National Honey Board and other entities; and serves on the scientific review panel for the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) organization, which reviews funding requests of tech teams.
(Editor's Note: the new Extension apiculturist is Elina Lastro Niño, who holds a doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University.)
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That question challenged 4-H’ers entering the 2013 National 4-H Beekeeping Essay Contest, sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Jesup, Ga. Essay coordinators urged the 4-H’ers to gather information from scientists, beekeepers, farmers, gardeners and other sources.
Elise Dunning, 14, a home-schooled eighth grader from Enumclaw, Wash., sought out staff research associate Billy Synk of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, as a key resource for her 967-word essay.
In a telephone interview, she "asked me a little about beekeeping but more about how pesticides are used and how that relates to toxicity and colony collapse disorder issues," Synk said.
Dunning went on to win the first-place award of $750 in a contest that drew state-winning essays from 21 states. Each state winner advances to the nationals.
Dunning's other sources included PBS Nature, The Silence of the Bees, 2007; beekeepers Wade Bennett and Dennis Carlson of Enumclaw; and the book, How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides, (Pacific Northwest Extension Publication, 2006) by Helmut Riedl, Erik Johansen, Linda Brewer and Jim Barbour.
“Imagine yourself in the blistering heat, wishing you were sipping lemonade and watching the honey bees buzz about,” began Dunning. “Instead, you are painstakingly hand-pollinating every single bloom with a wand composed of chicken feathers and bamboo. This is a completely alien idea to many of us. China, though, has succumbed to this fate of hand-pollination after their honey bees disappeared.”
“Honey bees are mysteriously vanishing worldwide. Although there are many theories concerning their disappearance, there is strong evidence that pesticide use is one contributing factor. If we wish to save this exceptional insect that many of us are hasty to shoo away, our use of pesticides needs to significantly change. Working together to accomplish this goal, beekeepers, growers, and homeowners can raise public awareness of honey bee health, scrupulously follow application guidelines, and consider choosing natural alternatives to pesticides.”
“Many people don’t realize how much we depend on honey bees. Incredibly, about one-third of everythingon our table is a result of honey bee pollination. This includes nuts, fruits, flowers in our centerpiece vases, and even most of our dairy, since cows feed on honey bee-pollinated crops such as alfalfa.If more people recognize how much the honey bee contributes to our lifestyles, they will likely be more thoughtful with their chemical use.”
Dunning also advocated communication. “Start a conversation with your friends and family about saving the honey bee! Plan a wildflower-planting day, discuss using natural alternatives, or set a date to shop for pesticides listed as safe for honey bees! …Increasing public awareness of the honey bee’s peril and importance in our lives can inspire anyone to become a honey bee rescuer.”
Dunning acknowledged that chemicals are often used on plants and in bee hives. “However, the choices we make about which chemicals, when to apply, and how to apply them could make a huge difference in the honey bee’s survival. When choosing pesticides, it is a good idea to avoid those which have a residual hazard longer than eight hours. There are three insecticides that are primarily responsible for bee poisoning: organophosphates, n-methyl carbamates, and neonicotinoids.The organophosphate is in many cases no longer available and was originally developed for chemical warfare during World War I. Chemicals are often unavoidable with crop production, but there are many things growers can do to make their application more bee-friendly.
“One of the most straightforward steps we can take to protect our honey bees is to meticulously follow pesticide application instructions and guidelines. For example, since honey bees only forage during the day, spraying a pesticide in the evening that would not leave a toxic residue by morning could help reduce bee deaths.Another precaution that could be taken before applying a toxic pesticide with a long residual life is to ask neighboring beekeepers to move or confine their bees temporarily. Despite the inconvenience, it is worth it to protect honey bees from exposure to chemicals.
Dunning also advocated that beekeepers try to use “at least one” natural alternative to pesticides in their hives. “Although there are many pesticides available for this issue, natural alternatives, many of which are common household items, can work instead,” she wrote. She noted that 20-year beekeeper Dennis Carlson, owner of Dr. D’s Bees, Enumclaw, uses powdered sugar to remove mites from inside his hives; and 25-year beekeeper Wade Bennett, owner of Rockridge Orchards, “uses a unique alternative to eliminate mites, which includes sprinkling dried, ground up honey into his hives. He also uses mint oil to rid his bees of trachea mites. Natural alternatives definitely pose fewer risks to bees than pesticides. In my opinion, everyone should use at least one substitute to help save the honey bee.”
“Our pesticide use,” the 4-H’er related, “is one reason for the honey bee decline, and using natural alternatives as well as being careful to follow rules for chemical application can help alter the effects.”
“Most importantly, though, speaking out and spreading awareness of the honey bee’s jeopardy can save this bee from toxic chemicals. Our actions and day to day choices, whether chatting with family or applying chemicals to our yards, need to be carried out with the honey bee in mind.”
Dunning lives with parents, younger brother, two dogs and two frogs in Enumclaw. Her interests include 4-H dog care and training, reading, spelling bees, and gymnast activities.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology judges the California state level of the contest and frequently answers questions about bees.