(Collaborative history of the UC Davis bee biology program.)
George Haymaker Vansell (1892-1954) was a student at UC Davis who eventually helped with the instruction of entomology and apiculture beginning in 1920 and ending in 1931. In 1922 he became the first instructor to establish residence in Davis. This marked a turning point for entomology at UC Davis and reflected the growing popularity and importance of teaching in the discipline. Vansell's appointment was “Instructor in Entomology” as a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee in the Davis Experiment Station.
In October of 1931 Vansell published the first edition of “Nectar and Pollen Plants of California (Bulletin 517, through UC Berkeley). That publication was later revised by Vansell and Eckert in 1941. Vansell also took an early interest in reports of colony poisoning by California buckeye (Aesculus californica Nuttall). He published the early UC Berkeley Agricultural Experiment station Circular 301, titled “Buckeye Poisoning of the Honey Bee,” in 1926. As a co-author with Frank E. Todd (USDA Bureau of Entomology), they generated two publications in 1932: “Data concerning one method of apiary management for use in the California buckeye area” and “Resistance of Hybrid Honeybee to a Plant Poison in California.”
In 1936 Vansell was an author on “A Search for a Method of Producing Honey in the Poisonous Buckeye Area in California,” in conjunction with E.L. Sechrist and Frank E. Todd, who were with the Bureau of Entomology with the USDA. The same year, Vansell joined C.E. Burnside of the USDA Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine to publish “Plant Poisoning of Bees,” reporting national and international reports of bee poisonings. In 1940, Vansell teamed with William G. Watkins and Lee F. Hosbrook to publish another combined UC Berkeley and USDA report on the topic: “The Distribution of California Buckeye in the Sierra Nevada in Relation to Honey Production.” The publication contained a list of “Plants in the Sierra Nevada Providing Nectar, Pollen, or Honeydew, with their Elevation and Blossoming Period” as well as 18 local maps of the natural distribution of buckeye plants.
Vansell conducted additional research on fruit tree pollination at the USDA Pacific States Bee Culture Laboratory, Davis, California. Vansell passed away unexpectedly in his lab in 1954. A student scholarship in the Department of Entomology and Nematology bears his name.
Frank Edward Todd (1895 - 1969) was assigned to the USDA Pacific States Bee Culture Laboratory at UC Davis from 1931 to 1942. He served as head of the USDA apiculture research branch until retirement in 1965. Following his retirement, he was affiliated with UC Davis Bee Biology during the 1960s and ‘70s when he modified Norman Gary's original device and claimed the well-known “Todd Dead Bee Trap” that still is used in honey bee poisoning research.
Edward Lloyd Sechrist (1873 - 1953) was an associate agriculturist in the USDA Office of Bee Culture. Sechrist published “Transferring bees to modern hives” (Farmers' Bulletin 961) in 1918. Sechrist apparently was the first to propose: United States standards for honey: Recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (Department circular / Unites States Department of Agriculture) in 1927. He published a “Preliminary Report on Apiary Organization and Honey Production in the Intermountain States in 1928.”
In 1930 Sechrist conducted studies on how much weight a honey bee colony gained and lost on a daily basis and reported that a colony could increase in weight by 20 pounds a day. He wrote the textbook “Honey Getting” in 1944. “Amateur Beekeeping” appears to have undergone revision in 1955, and reprinted in ‘58, '71, and ‘76. Sechrist conducted some of his studies with personnel from the Davis bee lab.
John Edward Eckert (1895-1975) joined UC Davis as a professor of entomology and apiculture in 1931 and eventually assumed the title of “Local Chairman” – this was the title of the administrator of the department up to 1934 when the official title of vice chairman, Berkeley-Davis, was established. Eckert finished his appointment as department chairman in 1946. As a master's student, Eckert published a paper on “The Flight Range of the Honey Bee” that remains the definitive statement on the topic. Eckert conducted early studies on effects of pesticides on honey bees and worked very closely with the beekeeping industry on matters of colony management and beekeeping politics. Eckert also conducted studies on potential resistance to buckeye poisoning by various races, and crosses between races, of Caucasian, Carniolan, and Italian stocks. The results were published in 1933 as “Buckeye Poisoning of the Honeybee – A Progress Report.”
Eckert published many articles on beekeeping, edited a California column in "Gleanings in Bee Culture" for decades, and he published the first iteration of “Beekeeping in California, Circular 100,” in 1936. This publication is the basis for many revisions and title changes by various authors over the decades, including one version Eckert titled: “A Handbook on Beekeeping for California (Manual 15, 1954).” He also published a more concise, four-page publication titled “The Home Apiary” in 1943.
Harry Hyde Laidlaw, Jr. (1907-2003) joined UC Davis as a Professor of Apiculture in 1947. His research resulted in his being called the “father of honey bee genetics” and he was the first to develop a functional instrument for artificially inseminating queen honey bees. Laidlaw pioneered research on visible mutants of honey bees (including eye colors, wing lengths, hairlessness, and pigment-free ((blind)) drones). His genetic stocks of eye color mutants led to determination of biochemical pathways for development of eye colors and early genetic mapping of the honey bee genome. Laidlaw garnered campus, national and international awards for his research efforts. His service to the university included being appointed the first dean for research in the UC Davis College of Agriculture. The current Bee Biology Facility is named for Laidlaw, and his family established an endowment fund (student scholarships) in his name. (See In Memoriam)
Norman E. Gary (1933- ) joined UC Davis as a professor of apiculture in 1962. In the 1960s he spearheaded grant funding to construct a new bee research facility and designed our current Bee Biology facility, now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Gary specialized in honey bee behavior. He did the most comprehensive research on flight range and dynamic distribution of foraging honey bees in almond orchards and various field crops by developing a novel method to recover magnetically approximately 90 percent of foragers tagged with ferrous metal ID tags, enabling the highest recapture percentage ever recorded for any insect species. During honey bee mating behavior research he was first to identify queen mating pheromones and also first to observe, describe, and photograph aerial mating behavior of queens and drones, develop aerial traps for drones, and make an award winning documentary film on mating behavior. He designed an efficient hive entrance dead bee trap that enables accurate monitoring of bee mortality inside the hive, e.g., bees killed by pesticides and diseases.
Gary led a research team to determine possible effects of microwaves on honey bees and invertebrates, as a part of the Solar Power Satellite project. In the 1970s he spearheaded the organization of the Western Apicultural Society and served as its first president. Since his retirement in 1994, Gary has written chapters for several honey bee text books as well as a book (“Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees,” 2010). For more than 40 years, he consulted with TV and film companies as a bee wrangler and stunt coordinator for producing educational documentaries and entertaining productions, resulting in 17 movies, 6 commercials, and more than 50 television programs. He is also a lifetime professional musician, performing and recording on clarinet, tenor and alto saxophones, and flute.
Robbin W. Thorp (1933 - 2019) joined UC Davis as a professor of apiculture in 1964. Thorp specialized in pollination behavior of honey bee and native bees. Thorp devoted a good deal of time to almond pollination and contributed information that still is applicable in this national, Herculean, single-crop pollination effort. But, he also maintained an interest in non-Apis bees. He published the book “Bumble Bees and Cuckoo Bumble Bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in the Bulletin of the California Insect Survey, with Lorry Dunning in 1983. As emeritus professor (retired 1994), Thorp continued to work avidly with native bees until his death on June 7, 2019. In 2014, he co-authored a“Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide” (Princeton University Press) and another titled: “California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists" (Heyday).
Ward Stanger (1913-2000) shifted his extension responsibilities from Extension entomologist to Extension apiculturist when the honey bee researchers were being overwhelmed with requests for beekeeping information during the age of counter culturalism in the 1960s and ‘70s. Stanger was readily adopted by the beekeeping industry as a spokesman for their concerns. In 1971 he joined forces with the Davis researchers and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) representatives to publish “Manual 42: Fundamentals of California Beekeeping.” This publication was revised and retitled “Beekeeping in California,” but the basic information remains pretty similar to the original. In 1969 Stanger co-authored, with Dr. William C. Roberts from what is now known as the USDA-ARS Baton Rouge Bee Lab, an article in the American Bee Journal titled “Survey of the Package Bee and Queen Industry.” It was the first comparison of how the northern California and southeastern Gulf States bee breeders conducted their businesses. Stanger became involved in research of honey bee nutrition, since most honey bee colonies kept commercially in California require some supplemental feed to increase brood rearing for various reasons. Together with Harry Laidlaw, Stanger fed 40 colonies feeds containing various concentrations of pollen, Wheast, and sugar syrup. The results: “Supplemental Feeding of Honeybees” were published the year he retired from the university, 1974.
Christine Y. S. Peng (1944- ) joined the Department of Entomology as a professor of apiculture in 1975. Peng was an insect physiologist and she devoted her studies to searching for solutions to honey bee problems. She spent a good deal of time searching for a replacement antibiotic for oxytetracycline hydrochloride (Terramycin®) when American foulbrood was becoming resistant. With Drs. Terrance Leighton and Eric Mussen, Peng selected tylosin as the top candidate, which is being used internationally today. Peng also provided considerable knowledge on the topic of honey bee nutrition, including determining the best times of the year to provide supplemental feed to the colonies. Peng retired from the University in 2005.
Eric Carnes Mussen (1944- ) joined University Cooperative Extension as extension apiculturist in 1976. Mussen became involved in many different honey bee studies, often in conjunction with one of the department Professors. He became fully integrated into the world of non-commercial and commercial beekeeping. As his experiences broadened, he became a recognizable voice for beekeeping matters with county farm advisors, agricultural organizations, California agencies, NGOs, and the EPA. Mussen retired in 2014, but still remains in contact with industry matters.
Robert E. Page, Jr. (1949 - ) completed his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, with a strong emphasis on insect genetics. After a couple years as professor at Ohio State University, Page returned to UC Davis in 1989 to further his research in honey bee genetics. During his 15 years at UC Davis, including an appointment as department chairman, and 11 more at Arizona State University (ASU), Page published hundreds of papers, four books, and led to the discovery of many fundamental tenets of honey bee behavior and population genetics and the focus of his current research is on the evolution of complex social behavior. Using the honey bee as a model, Dr. Page has dissected their complex foraging division of labor at all levels of biological organization from gene networks to complex social interactions. Page served as Foundation Chair of Life Sciences at ASU and provost (now emeritus) at Arizona State University.
Current Faculty Members
Neal Williams joined the department in 2009 as an assistant professor, coming from an exemplary background in college teaching to a position that would allow more creative research. Williams is now professor of entomology and a core faculty member with the Agricultural Sustainability Institute. His work ranges from basic research in bee biology and pollination to applied research on native bee conservation and crop pollination. He investigates the evolution and ecology of pollen specialization (oligolecty) by bees and how such specialists contribute to plant reproduction compared to generalists (polyleges). He also explores the role of habitat connectivity for the persistence of bees in agri-natural landscapes and how pollination service by native bee species is affected by land use change and human disturbance. Finally, he is working to develop native plant mixtures to bolster populations of the honey bee and wild bee species and promote sustainable pollination in different agricultural systems.
Brian Ricky Johnson joined the department as a bee behaviorist in 2012. Johnson continues studies on the genetics, behavior, evolution, and health of honey bees. Approaches to honey bee health studies incorporate a combination of genetics, epidemiology, and physiological approaches. His current work focuses on the evolution and genetic basis of social behavior using comparative and functional genomics, task allocation using behavioral and theoretical approaches, and honey bee health using a combination of genetics, epidemiology, and physiological approaches. He also is attempting to better determine where genes from Africanized honey bees have gained entry into the regional bee populations around the state.
Elina Lastro Niño joined the department as Extension apiculturist in 2014. She arrived with a very strong background in bees and beekeeping, and she immediately began visiting beekeepers throughout the state to become familiar with California beekeeping. Niño devotes her major research focus to queen honey bees and the physiological changes they undergo as they mature, become inseminated, and begin laying eggs. But she also is concerned about the pesticide problems vexing honey bee colonies and is conducting research in that area. She established the California Master Beekeeper Program in 2016. She is the bee biology program's third Extension apiculturist and the only Extension apiculturist in California.
How can you monitor, mitigate and manage them?
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her lab are hosting a short course on "Managing Varroa" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
"Current beekeeping challenges call for all beekeepers to have a solid understanding of varroa mite biology and management approaches," said Niño, in describing the course. "We will dive deeper into understanding varroa biology and will devote majority of the time to discussing pros and cons of various means to monitor, mitigate, and manage this crucial honey bee pest."
The course, limited to 20 participants, will cover varroa biology, treatment options and chemical-free options. Participants are to bring their bee veil or suit. The $200 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. The last day to register is Monday, Oct. 7. Click here to register.
The eight-legged varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is an external parasite that attacks and feeds on honey bees. Originating in Asia, it is now found throughout most of the world. It arrived in Japan and the Soviet Union in the early 1960s and South America in the 1970s. From the 1970s to 1980s, it spread to South America, Poland, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. The pest was first detected in the United States in 1987, in Canada in 1989, and in 1992 in the United Kingdom. It has since spread to Ireland, New Zealand and Hawaii, but to date, has not been found in Australia.
The female is reddish brown, while the male is white. They measure 1–1.8 mm long and 1.5–2 mm wide.
For more information on the course, contact Wendy Mather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mather serves as the program manager of the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, directed by Niño. The program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
The California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is hosting two short courses in early August: one on “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” and the other, “Working Your Colonies.”
Each will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. The deadline to register is Thursday, Aug. 1.
“These courses are foundational to beekeeping husbandry excellence,” said Wendy Mather, program manager. “They are great for folks who are thinking about getting bees next season, as well as those who currently have bees and want to ensure they're doing whatever they can to ensure the success of their hives.”
The classes are not required to become a California Master Beekeeper, but are highly recommended, as “they will help folks prepare to become a science-based beekeeping ambassador,” Mather said. Instructors are Elina Niño and CAMPB educational supervisor Bernardo Niño, a staff research assistant in the Niño lab.
Planning Ahead for Your First Hives
“Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” will take place Saturday, Aug. 3 and will include both lectures and hands-on activities. Participants will learn what's necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving. They will learn about bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to install honey bee packages, how to monitor their colonies (that includes inspecting and monitoring for varroa mites) and other challenges with maintaining a healthy colony.
The course is limited to 25 participants. The $105 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments. Participants can bring their bee suit or veil if they have one, or protective gear can be provided. For more information or to register, see https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/572.
Working Your Colonies
“Working Your Colonies” will take place Sunday, Aug. 4 and will include both lectures and hands-on activities. Participants will learn what is necessary to maintain a healthy colony. Lectures will cover advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management, and products of the hive. Participants also will learn about queen wrangling, honey extraction, splitting/combined colonies, and monitoring for varroa mites.
The course is limited to 25 participants per session. The $175 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. For more information or to register, see https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/559.
Participants can bring their bee suit or veil if they have one, or protective gear can be provided. All participants are to wear closed-toed and closed-heel shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
The California Master Beekeeping Program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. For more information, contact Mather at email@example.com.
Want to learn how to keep bees?
The University of California, Davis, is offering two classes in mid-March: the first on Saturday, March 23 and the second on Sunday, March 24.
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be teaching the beekeeping classes with her colleagues.
An all-day course on "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” is set from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, March 23 in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Participants will have the opportunity to learn about--and practice--many aspects of what's necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving, Niño said. At the end of the course, participants will be knowledgeable about installing honey bee packages, monitoring their own colonies. and possibly challenges with maintaining a healthy colony.
Lecture modules will cover honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive.
Practical modules will cover how to build a hive, how to install a package, inspecting your hive and monitoring for varroa mites.
The course is limited to 25 participants. Participants should bring their bee suit/veil if they have one. The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments. The last day to register is Friday, March 22.
Working Your Colonies
A separate course on "Working Your Colonies" will take place on Sunday, March 24. This is an all-day course from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. The last day to register is Friday, March 22.
Participants will have the opportunity to learn about--and practice--many aspects of what is necessary to maintain a healthy colony and exploit products of the hive.
Lecture modules will cover advanced honey bee biology, honey bee integrated pest management (IPM) and products of the hive. Practical models will cover queen wrangling, honey extraction and splitting/combining colonies, and monitoring for varroa mite
The $150 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. Participants should bring their bee suit/veil if they have one.
For more information, contact Wendy Mather at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, praised Page as “a pioneer researcher in the field of behavioral genetics, an internationally recognized scholar, a highly respected author, a talented and innovative administrator, and a skilled teacher responsible for mentoring many of today's top bee scientists.”
“Robert Page is arguably the most influential honey bee biologist of the past 30 years,” Nadler wrote in his letter of nomination. The award, administered by the UC Davis Emeriti Association, honors outstanding scholarship work or service performed since retirement by a UC Davis emeritus.
Page will receive the award--a plaque and a cash prize of $1000--at a luncheon hosted by Chancellor Gary May on Monday, Jan. 28 in the UC Davis Conference Center. Two recipients of the Edward Dickson Emeriti Professorship Award—Caroline Chantry and Anthony Phillips (both pediatrics)--also will be honored.
Page, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 1980, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1989 and served as the chair of the Department of Entomology from 1999 to 2004, the year he gained emeritus status and the year Arizona State University recruited him for what would be a series of top-level administrative roles. He continues his research, teaching and public service in both Arizona and California, but now resides in California, near Davis, with his family.
Page is known for his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.
At UC Davis, he maintained a honey bee-breeding program for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015, managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. They discovered a link between social behavior and maternal traits in bees. Their work was featured in a cover story in the journal Nature. In all, Nature featured his work on four covers from work mostly done at UC Davis.
His work has garnered a significant impact in the scientific community through his research on the evolutionary genetics and social behavior of honey bees. He was the first to demonstrate that a significant amount of observed behavioral variation among honey bee workers is due to genotypic variation. In the 1990s he and his students and colleagues isolated, characterized and validated the complementary sex determination gene of the honey bee; considered the most important paper yet published about the genetics of Hymenoptera. The journal Cell featured their work on its cover. In subsequent studies, he and his team published further research into the regulation of honey bee foraging, defensive and alarm behavior.
In addition to his pioneering work on the first genetic map of any social insect--demonstrating that the honey bee has the highest recombination rate of any eukaryotic organism mapped to date--Page was personally involved in genome mappings of bumble bees, parasitic wasps and two species of ants. His most recent work focuses on the genetic bases to individuality in honey bees; demonstrating genetic links between pollen and nectar collection, tactile and olfactory learning characteristics, and neuroendocrine function. This work provides the most detailed understanding to date of the molecular and genetic bases to task variation in a social insect colony.
He has authored than 250 research papers, including five books: among them The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013. He is a highly cited author onsuch topics as Africanized bees, genetics and evolution of social organization, sex determination, and division of labor in insect societies. His resume shows more than 18,000 citations.
In 2004, Page was recruited by ASU as the director of the School of Life Sciences of Arizona State University (ASU). He organized three departments--biology, microbiology and plant sciences, comprising more than 600 faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff--into one unified school. As its founding director, he established the school as a platform for discovery in the biomedical, genomic and evolutionary and environmental sciences. He also established ASU's Honey Bee Research Facility.
His ASU academic career advanced to a number of titles: dean of Life Sciences; vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and university provost. Today he holds the titles of provost emeritus of ASU and Regents professor emeritus, as well as UC Davis department chair emeritus, professor emeritus, and now distinguished emeritus professor.
Page's colleagues laud his strategic vision, his innovative leadership, and his stellar contributions to science.
James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis, who continues to work with Dr. Page on research projects, describes him as "one of the most gifted scientists, administrators, and teachers I have had the privilege to know in 30 years in academia.”
Colleague Bert Hoelldobler, an ASU professor of life sciences, said Page is “the leading honey bee geneticist in the world. A number of now well-known scientists in the U.S. and Europe learned the ropes of sociogenetics in Rob's laboratory.”
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, former manager of the Laidlaw facility and now of Washington State University, praised Page's major contributions to the beekeeping industry, including the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Theory. This has offered a practical system of stock improvement for honey bees, used worldwide, she said. “It's a challenge, as the queen mates in flight with numerous drones and selection is based upon complex behaviors at the colony level, influenced by the environmental.” She has applied this theory throughout her career, developing and maintaining a population of Carniolan bees, now in their 36th generation.
Among Page's many honors:
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Awardee of the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (the Humboldt Prize - the highest honor given by the German government to foreign scientists)
- Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Elected to the Leopoldina - the German National Academy of Sciences (the longest continuing academy in the world)
- Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
- Fellow of the Entomological Society of America
- Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences
- Elected to the Brazilian Academy of Science
- Recipient of the James W. Creasman Award of Excellence from the Arizona State University Alumni Association
- Fellow, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, Munich, Germany, September 2017-August 2018
- Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award from UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology received the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. He served on the faculty from 1964 to 1994. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of California: An Identification Guide (2014, Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (2014, Heyday Books).