End of an Era for Eric Mussen

Jul 2, 2014

It's the end of an era for Eric Mussen.

The Extension apiculturist, aka "honey bee guru," officially retired at the end of June after a 38-year academic career. A native of New York, he joined the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 1976 after receiving his doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota.

He's known not only as the "honey bee guru," but “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media have questions about honey bees.

Mussen was just named the recipient of the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), a well-deserved honor.

For nearly four decades, he has devoted his research and extension activities toward the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices.

Since 1976, Mussen has written and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping.

His nominators wrote that what sets Dr. Mussen apart from his Extension-specialist peers are these seven attributes:

  • His amazing knowledge of bees
  • His excellent communication skills in a diverse clientele, including researchers, Extension personnel, legislators,‚Ä®commodity boards, grower organizations, pesticide regulators, students, news media, and beekeeping associations at the national, state and local levels,
  • His eagerness to help everyone, no matter the age or stature or expertise, from an inquiring 4-H'er to a beginning beekeeper to a commercial beekeeper
  • His ability to translate complicated research in lay terms; he's described as “absolutely the best”
  • His willingness—his “just-say-yes” personality---to go above and beyond his job description by presenting multiple talks to every beekeeping association in California, whether it be a weekday, evening or weekend, and his willingness to speak at a wide variety of events, including pollinator workshops, animal biology classes, UC activities and fairs and festivals
  • His reputation for being a well-respected, well-liked, honest, and unflappable person with a delightful sense of humor; and
  • His valuable research, which includes papers on antiobiotics to control American foulbrood; fungicide toxicity in the almond orchards; the effect of light brown apple moth mating pheromone on honey bees; the effects of high fructose corn syrup and probiotics on bee colonies; and the invasion and behavior of Africanized bees. He is often consulted on colony collapse disorder and bee nutrition.

"Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world," said MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota. "Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”

"I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in September of 2011. “Whatever I can do for bees, I do it...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.”

That says it all in a nutshell--or a bee hive.

What next? Eric Mussen will be around the UC Davis campus--his office in Briggs Hall and the bee lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility--to help the new apiculturist,  Elina Lastro Niño of Pennsylvania State University get adjusted when she arrives in September.  She's known for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. (See news story on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)

We rather expect that Mussen will continue to be involved with the bees. Maybe he'll write a book on California beekeeping, or update the one he co-authored years ago.

That could very well "bee."

Great job, Eric Mussen! A tip of the veil!