Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
University of California
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen

Colony collapse disorder: still with us?

Honey bee foraging on a pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
He's asked this question a lot.

"Does colony collapse disorder (CCD) still exist?"

Eric Mussen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis says "yes."

But the winter losses are being attributed to many other causes. "Less than 10 percent of the losses are now attributed to CCD," Mussen points out.

CCD surfaced in the fall of 2006 when beekeepers starting seeing their colonies decimated. They'd open the hive, only to find the queen, the brood and the food stores. The adult workers? Gone. 

"CCD still exists and it appears as though in cases where multiple other stresses combine to severely weaken the bees, then  viruses can overwhelm the immune system and the bees fly away and die," Mussen says. "We do not know what causes apparently-sick bees to fly from the hive, and we still have a difficult time describing how all the bees could become affected so swiftly."

"As colony losses mounted, the beekeepers had to spend even more time monitoring the conditions of their colonies. They noted things that might be done to prevent some problems that seemed to be starting. So, we are better at preventing the losses, but the percentage for about 25 percent of our beekeepers is still way too high."

Mussen says that "the other 75 percent of the beekeepers are doing relatively well (5-15 percent losses), so we have leveled off in national colony numbers. If the 25 percent can better determine what is going wrong, we should see improved data in the future."

Scientists attribute CCD to a combination of causes, including pests, pesticides, viruses, diseases, malnutrition, and stress. The No. 1 problem in the hives, they agree, is the varroa mite. Mussen writes about those topics - and others in his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries and "Bee Briefs." Both are available free on his website.

Mussen, who is retiring in June after 38 years of service, was recently named the recipient of the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award, sponsored by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Mussen devotes his research and extension activities toward the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices. Mussen, who joined the UC Davis department in 1976, is known throughout the state, nation and world as “the honey bee guru” and “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.

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Honey bees: Should they be banned from native plant restoration areas?

Phacelia, a California native plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What’s a honey bee to do?

The dwindling resources of pollen and nectar-producing plants in California greatly concern bee scientists and beekeepers, and rightfully so.

But the dwindling resources also greatly concern native pollinator specialists and native plant enthusiasts. Some worry that honey bees, which are non-natives, may be "reducing" or "eliminating" native pollinators through competition for food.

Are they?

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology explains that a number of agencies and organizations are cooperating in an effort to "restore" regions of the California Central Valley to their "original state." 

“The major emphases are (1) replacing non-native vegetation with native plants and (2) encouraging native animals to return to their former ranges,” Mussen says. "The result has been eviction of beekeepers from apiary locations that have been used for decades as seasonal spots for rebuilding populations following the stresses of commercial pollination or for producing honey."

Eric Mussen, honey bee expert. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“While removing this non-native pollinator from an environment may sound rational at first, it may not be the best idea,” Mussen points out. “In most cases, it is not the presence of honey bees that has depressed or eliminated the populations of native pollinators. In fact, no studies have shown that honey bees eliminate native pollinators. In some cases, the populations of native pollinators have been reduced by honey bee competition, but following removal of honey bees the native bees built back to usual levels in a couple years.”

Indeed, in some situations, honey bees can survive, and native pollinators can’t.  

“With honey bees, if we provide them with an adequate hive and food sources, they are likely to survive,” Mussen says. “However, native pollinators can be very particular about the environment in which they can exist. If their nesting habitat is disturbed, modified or destroyed, they cannot live in the area, despite an abundance of food plants. In many California locations, it is habitat alteration or destruction, not lack of food, which eliminated the native pollinators.”

Robbin Thorp, native pollinator specialist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When native habitats are compromised, “honey bees may be essential to foster initial re-establishment of native plant populations,” Mussen relates. “Those plants provide food and shelter for wildlife and assist significantly in erosion control. Until the habitat is restored adequately to meet the requirements of native pollinators, it is likely that the presence of honey bees will be much more beneficial than detrimental in keeping the California native plants pollinated and reproducing.”

So, should honey bees be banned from restoration areas?

"No," Mussen says. "Honey bees should be solicited for restoration areas, not banned."

Mussen shares a list of 130 native California plants that are likely to be visited - "and probably pollinated" - by honey bees. They include button bush or button willow, fiddleneck, and California golden poppy. The list is excerpted from Nectar and Pollen Plants of California by G. H. Vansell UC Berkeley, plus personal observations by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. The list is updated, reflecting information on the CalFlora website and the Jepson Manual of Higher Plants of California.

Thorp, who monitors the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, planted in the fall of 2009 on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, has found more than 80 different species of bees - and counting - in the half-acre bee garden. It's located next to the apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.

So honey bees and native bees share the resources.

Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM

About those honey bees...

Eric Mussen
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has certainly increased public awareness about bees — but also public misinformation about bees in general.

CCD, the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, immature brood and stored food, surfaced in the winter of 2006. Scientists believe CCD is caused by multiple factors: diseases, viruses, pesticides, pests, malnutrition and stress.

Meanwhile, misinformation about bees continues to surface.  Posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media often caption a syrphid fly as a bee or a syrphid fly as a bumble bee. Magazine and newspaper editors frequently misidentify a syrhpid fly (aka flower fly and hover fly) as a honey bee. Even the cover of the well-respected book, Bees of the World, by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw shows a fly, not a bee. University of Illinois-based entomologist Alex Wild, who received his doctorate from UC Davis, mentioned the error in his Scientific American blog.

So, we asked noted honey bee authority Eric Mussen, UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology: What should the general public know about honey bees? Can you share some basic information? A honey bee primer?

First of all, honey bees are not native to the United States. European colonists introduced them to what is now the United States in 1622. The site: the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Then in 1853, the honey bees were introduced to California. The site: San Jose.

“Honey bees,” Mussen says, “are commercial pollination workhorses, while native bees — mostly solitary — pollinate the native plants of field and forest. Around 250 commercial California beekeepers operate about 500,000 honey bee colonies, approximately one-fifth of the country’s supply. Over 72 percent of commercial crop pollination is conducted in California, and about one-third of our daily diet is dependent upon bee pollination. We also have about 6,000 small-scale or hobby beekeepers, who tend to keep one to five colonies.”

Mussen attributes CCD with “fomenting great media and public interest. It also sparked an increase in the number of small scale beekeepers.”

About 60,000 individuals, including the queen, thousands of worker bees (sterile females) and drones (male bees) comprise a colony in the late spring/summer.

“Up to a thousand drones are present during the mating season,” Mussen says, “but they get evicted at the end of the fall.”

The drones serve one purpose: to mate with a queen. And then they die. When a virgin queen is about 10 days old, she will mate with 12 to 20 drones on one or more mating flights. The queen returns to the hive and begins laying eggs, as many as 2,000 eggs a day.

“Bees are vegetarians and live on pollen and nectar obtained from flowers or extra-floral nectarines,” Mussen says. “A mix of pollens is required to meet honey bee nutritional needs.”

During the active season, a honey bee colony each day requires an acre-equivalent of blooms in order to meet its nutritional needs. Bees store both pollens and honey for winter food. The bees usually forage within five miles of the hive. Nutrition is crucial to a healthy hive.

“Malnutrition impairs the protective physiological systems — particularly the immune system and detoxification system — and leads to less productive and shorter-lived bees,” Mussen says.

The bottom line: “More research is required to find better ways to reduce populations of honey bee parasites, reduce levels of honey bee diseases, and develop beekeeping management practices that prevent excessive losses of honey bee colonies during the year.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 8:42 AM

So, you want to be a commercial beekeeper...

Eric Mussen
So you want to be a full-time commercial beekeeper and keep 1,000 colonies or more.

Perhaps you want to sell honey and beeswax, rent your bees for commercial crop pollination, rear queen bees, or sell bulk bees.

The newly published second edition of the Small Farm Handbook, which draws on the knowledge of 32 experts from the University of California, contains a wealth of information. The chapter, "Raising Animals," covers beekeeping as a business.

“Costs to start a beekeeping business are not particularly high compared to many small businesses, and a well-planned and managed operation can be profitable,” writes Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

“Beekeepers own, rent or find rent-free apiary locations where their bees can forage for food without becoming a nuisance to humans or livestock. Beekeepers must manage their colonies to the benefit of the bees and in compliance with existing state, county and municipal ordinances.”

For those who want to rent bees for pollination, “rental rates are as much as 10 times higher for almond orchards, which need to be pollinated a time of year when bee supplies barely meet demand.”

Indeed, California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and each acre needs two colonies for pollination. Since the Golden State doesn't have that many bees, they are trucked in from all over the country.

"Fifty percent of the bees in the United States have to be in California to pollinate the almonds," molecular biologist and biochemist Joseph DeRisi of UC San Francisco said Jan. 9 at his lecture in the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility at UC Davis.

DeRisi, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF, pointed out that “California supplies 80 percent of the world's almond supply.”

No bees, no almonds.

“Beekeeping can sound deceptively simple,” Mussen writes in the chapter, “but in fact beekeeping is a form of animal husbandry that involves providing feed when nectar and pollens are lacking, preventing infections from various microbes, dealing with two well-established parasitic mites, and reducing the influence of Africanized bees. Before you try to keep bees commercially on your own, you should gain experience working with a commercial beekeeper for one or more seasons.”

The latest parasite discovered in bees is the parasitic phorid fly (Apocephalus borealis). In work published Jan. 3 in the Public Library of Science (PLoS One) journal, San Francisco State University researchers wrote that the parasitic fly lays its eggs in the honey bees; it was previously known to parasitize bumble bees, but not honey bees.

The fly-infested bees display altered bee behavior. Nicknamed “zombie bees,” the bees fly at night toward lights, such as porch, building or street lights. They do not return to the hive; they die.

Neither Mussen nor DeRisi believes that the parasitic fly is a dominant factor in colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive.

For tips on beekeeping, be sure to check out Mussen's bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and his other resource, Bee Briefs, both posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.

And  if you want to become an full-time commercial beekeeper, read the “Estimated Investment Needed for a 1,000-Colony Bee Operation” in the Small Farm Handbook.

Posted on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 8:26 AM

Show me the honey

“Going green” means buying local honey, say honey bee experts at the University of California, Davis.

“It’s not only supporting the local beekeepers in our flagging economy, but imported honey can be problematic,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey. “When you buy imported honey, you don’t always know what you’re getting. The ‘honey’ could be a mixture of corn syrup and water, or blends of honeylike products. It could contain pesticides or antibiotics. It could be mislabeled or from a different country or floral source than indicated on the label.”

“Also,” Cobey said, “you don’t know how it’s been treated after bottling. Heated honey, for example, breaks down the enzymes and causes the honey to lose flavor.”

Some unethical honey importers illegally mark their products or route them through other countries to avoid paying tariffs or to avoid public health safeguards.

A recent investigative report published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that “big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries — an illegal practice called ‘transshipping’ — in order to avoid U.S. import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.”

“In a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product of Russia,” according to the investigative report.

Investigative reporter Andrew Schneider found that laundered Chinese honey is often shipped into the United States from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, then relabeled as coming from there instead of China.

The news is not new, and neither are the "stings." The Associated Press recently related that "a Chinese business agent for several honey import companies was arrested in Los Angeles Tuesday (Feb. 15) on federal charges filed in Chicago for allegedly conspiring to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified to avoid U.S. anti-dumping duties. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)."

The business agent was accused of "conspiring between 2004 and 2006 to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified as originating in South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand to avoid U.S. antidumping duties."

The fact is, the United States doesn't produce enough honey to supply the demand. And due to the lower price, U.S. consumers may reach for the imported honey instead of the locally produced honey.

"Currently U.S. honey producers can supply about half the honey consumed in the U.S.  annually,” said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who writes and publishes the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. “We have to import substantial amounts of honey. If the foreign sources lower their prices far enough, our honey producers can't sell their honey at competitive, above cost-of-production prices. To maintain our market, we cannot allow low-cost honey to slip past the tariffs now in place to keep domestic sales moving."

The UC Davis bee experts expressed concern that antibiotics banned in the United States are used to treat diseases in bee hives in other countries, and then the honey is shipped here. For example, beekeepers in China sometimes use an animal antibiotic, chloramphenicol, in their hives. When humans ingest the honey, it can cause serious illness and sometimes death.

Show me the money? Or show me the honey?

Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 8:04 AM
Tags: antibiotics (1), Eric Mussen (6), Susan Cobey (2), UC Davis (1)

Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 
Webmaster Email: mdhachman@ucdavis.edu