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Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen

The UC Apiary Newsletter Is Smokin'

A beekeeper smoking a hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're looking for the newsletter, from the UC apiaries, it has a new home.

The new UC California Cooperative Extension apiculturist, Elina Lastro Niño, has moved it to her website now that Eric Mussen has retired. Mussen, now Extension apiculturist emeritus, wrote the newsletter from 1976 to 2014 and loaded it on his UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website. The editions are now archived.

The new home? It's on the elninobeelab website

It's available online for free, of course. The newsletter is published bimonthly: in February, April, June, August, October and December.  Niño relates: "If you wish to have this newsletter sent directly to your email address, please follow the instructions below.  Enter this URL into your browser: https://lists.ucdavis.edu/sympa/subscribe/ucdavisbeenews. When it opens, it should relate to subscribing to this newsletter.  Enter your email address and then click submit. It is time to decide whether to continue your hard copy subscription. The mailed subscription rate is now $25 per year (six issues). If you'd still like to continue this subscription please send a check by April 10, 2015 payable to the UC Regents and mailed to Elina L. Niño at the address in the signature block. Be sure to include your name and mailing address. If the check is not received you will not receive the next issue of the newsletter as a hard copy. This, of course, does not apply to those who have already prepaid for a certain time period."

In the newest edition, published today, you'll learn about how to treat those nasty Varroa mites, known far and wide (except in Australia, which doesn't have them) as beekeepers' Public Enemy No. 1.

Niño writes about HopGuard® II, "basically an 'old' product developed by BetaTec Hop Products, Inc., but it has an improved delivery system."

You'll also learn

  • what Niño said when she addressed the the Avocado Pollination Seminar series
  • that EPA is registering a new insecticide, flupyradifuron
  • about exciting upcoming events, including a bee symposium, open house, and queen-rearing workshops, and
  • some great information about how honey bees collect nectar.

How honey bees collect nectar is her Kids' Corner feature. "Usually after about three weeks of  life as a house bee, all healthy honey bees in a normal, healthy colony become foragers," she writes. "They start every morning by going out into the world looking for the best sources of sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen. Some of them even collect water. Now, I'm sure you've seen these friendly ladies just buzzing along visiting flowers in your back yard. By the way, just a reminder, forager bees will not attack unless they feel threatened so just make sure you don't bother them and you should be fine (and tell your friends too!). "

Niño goes on to explain the process, and points out, as Mussen emphasizes, that honey is "not actually bee vomit as it never goes through a digestion (breakdown) process in the digestive tract of a honey bee." (Mussen officially retired in June 2014 after 38-years of service, but he continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall and assists wherever he can, including writing a few articles for the newsletter.)

Niño, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology on Sept. 1, 2014 from Pennsylvania State University—2600 miles away--is as busy as the proverbial worker bee.

 “California is a good place to bee,” she told us recently. “I just wish I could have brought some of that Pennsylvania rain with me to help out California's drought."

Niño operates her field lab at Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, and at her lab in Briggs Hall, on the central campus. Her aims: to conduct practical, problem-solving research projects; to support the state's beekeepers through research, extension and outreach; and to address beekeeper and industry concerns.

 The mission of her program is "to provide support to California beekeepers and other relevant stakeholders through research, extension and outreach." Niño studies honey bee biology, health, reproduction, pollination biology, insect ecology, evolution, genomics and chemical ecology.

Check out her lab's website at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/; and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab. Her email is so easy to remember: elnino@ucdavis.edu.

From left are members of the Niño lab: Elina Lastro Niño, Cameron Jasper, Billy Synk and Bernardo Niño. (Photo by Anand Varma)
From left are members of the Niño lab: Elina Lastro Niño, Cameron Jasper, Billy Synk and Bernardo Niño. (Photo by Anand Varma)

From left are members of the Niño lab: Elina Lastro Niño, Cameron Jasper, Billy Synk and Bernardo Niño. (Photo by Anand Varma)

Honey, I Hardly Know Ya

Is this honey organic? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ever been to a Farmer's Market and picked up a jar of honey advertised as "organic?"

Is it organic?

And if you're a beekeeper, has a consumer ever asked you if your honey is organic? How do you know?

An inquiring mind--a beekeeper--asked Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology about organic honey. We thought we'd share his comments.

"The answer to the question about 'organic honey' makes sense only if the inquisitive person knows about the mechanics of producing any 'organic' commodity," said Mussen, who retired last June after 28 years of service but continues to maintain an office.

"There are a set of government definitions that set the requirements for producing many organic products – honey is not one of them.  So, we try to play by the rules for organic livestock and organic plant producers.  Basically, you have to find a 'certified organic certifier'who will certify your operation, at a cost.  You have to develop a 'plan' that explains how and where you are going to keep your bees.  Often the certifier wants them to be kept on previously certified organic farms.  The likelihood of the bees just sticking around that farm for food and water are practically zero."

So true! Remember that bees forage four to five miles from their colony or within a 50-square mile. 

"So, you have to pay attention to the possible locations of 'contaminated' food and water within a 50-square mile area surrounding your apiary," Mussen told the beekeeper. "Things that catch the eye of the certifiers are landfills, golf courses, heavily-trafficked highways, agricultural plantings, etc. where contaminants are likely to be encountered.

"Like milk cows, you are supposed to start, or develop over time, an organic 'herd' of bees.  Like dairy cattle, if mastitis or American foulbrood shows up, the infected individuals have to be removed from the herd – not allowed to be killed – and medicated back to health.  After a period of time--pretty long--following recovery, the no-longer-sick animals can return.

Mussen points out that "any honey harvested and processed has to be done so in just the right way: no contact with plastics or other synthetics--pretty restrictive on packaging and sealable covers, right?"

Bottom line: "Producing organic honey is nearly impossible around the state (California)," Mussen says.

Now, the truth of the matter, as cited by Mussen:

  1.  Honey is hardly ever contaminated, even in areas of frequent use of possible contaminants.  If the contaminants are very toxic, the bees will die when working with the nectar and the honey is never produced. 
  2. Honey is a water-based product, so it does not mix readily with waxes and oils in the hive.  Nearly all pesticides are petroleum-based compounds that do not mix well with water or honey at all.  So, your honey is not likely to be contaminated no matter where you are.  The more secluded your apiaries are from humanity, the better things will be.

Mussen says the United States "produces quite a bit of honey from crops within the center of commercial agriculture and we are not having problems with contaminated honey."

So, whether beekeepers wish to call their honey organic. is up to them. "You would have to become certified, then have occasional visits by your certifier, if you wished to be legal," says Mussen. "It will not change your honey.  And, I have never heard of any certifiers testing honey for impurities."

Mussen further points out that the United States does not have a set of standards for organic honey production in as Canada and some European countries do. "We just borrow them from elsewhere!" He recommends this  website for more information on organic honey:  https://www.organicfacts.net/organic-products/organic-food/organic-honey-standards.html.

Honey bee sipping honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee sipping honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee sipping honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, February 23, 2015 at 6:03 PM
Tags: Beekeepers Feast (1), Eric Mussen (190), honey (7), organic honey (1)

Feel the Buzz!

Honey bee packing pollen from an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The word is "bees"  and "almonds" are their world.

Right this very minute there are about 1.7 million colonies of bees pollinating California almonds. Since it takes two colonies to pollinate one acre, and California doesn't have that many bees,  beekeepers throughout the nation trucked in some 1.6 million colonies.

Feel the buzz!

"Spend a couple days driving on county roads around I5 and Hwy 99 in the Central Valley of California, and you can feel the excitement!" writes Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m.  in her February newsletter. "Semi-load trucks are delivering over 400 hives each near orchards."

She lists five February facts: 

  1. Commercially-managed bees are just about ready for the biggest pollination event ON EARTH
  2. More than 3,500 truckloads of bees have crossed the border into California for the event,
  3. Almonds will require 1.7 million colonies this season
  4. If over-wintering losses for honey bees are hovering about the same as previous years (30 percent), almond pollination requires nearly ALL available commercially-managed colonies, and
  5. Some lucky bees have been able to forage on PAm's Mustard Mix and thus will not starve prior to bloom! 

What is Project Apis m.?

As Heintz explains: Project Apis m.'s mission is to fund and direct research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Our organization's name comes from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee.  Project Apis m. or PAm is the go-to organization at the interface of honeybees and pollinated crops. We've infused over 2.5 million into bee research since our inception in 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields.  We have personal relationships with the nation's commercial beekeepers and with the top bee scientists in the country."

"We fund research studies, purchase equipment for bee labs at our universities, support graduate students and provide scholarships to young bee scientists to encourage their pursuit of science-based solutions to honey bee challenges."

"We are a non-profit 501 (c) (5) organization governed by an eight-member board. Our board members are beekeepers representing the major national and state beekeeping organizations. Four scientific advisors review research proposals and provide recommendations to the board." (Among the long-term advisors: Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)"

Unfortunately, California is deep in the throes of a four-year drought. 

As Heintz notes in her current newsletter:  "Last year, we sadly reported that the drought had prevented or delayed emergence of much of our pre-almond bloom flowering plants.  This year, though the drought continues, we can happily report we are on target in many areas, with some rain falling at the right time so bees are enjoying planted forage during the usual pre-almond dearth."

Meanwhile, explore the Project Apis m. website: lots of information about what this organization is doing and what it hopes to do.

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 5:22 PM

Eight Decades of Bees 'n Skeeters

Quick! What do you think of when someone mentions "honey bees and mosquitoes" in the same sentence?

Honey bees are the pollinators, the beneficial insects. Infected mosquitoes transmit killer diseases such as malaria and dengue; they are our most dangerous insect enemies on the planet.  

But, in a way, sometimes an apiculturist and a medical entomologist come together when they are honored for their decades of service to the University of California.

Take Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, a bee guy, and medical entomologist William K. Reisen, a mosquito guy. Both retired last summer--Mussen after 38 years of service to UC, and Reisen, after 35 years of service. Between them, however, their length of service totals 82 years. That's because Reisen earlier served with the U.S. Air Force for three years and with the University of Maryland for six years.

Fittingly, both are receiving well-deserved honors for their accomplishments. Mussen's latest award was from the Almond Board of California for 38 years of meritorious service. Reisen's latest award is from the Mosquito Vector Control Association of California (MVCAC) for 35 years of meritorious service.

Reisen was nominated for the 2015 meritorious service award by the Contra Costa MVCAC District for "his special and significant contributions to the field of mosquito and vector control."

"Dr. Reisen's career spans over forty years during which he has published over 260 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in the field of medical entomology," wrote nominator Craig Downs, general manager of the Contra Costa MVCAC District.

"Throughout his career, Bill has directed projects studying the vector competence of mosquitoes for newly introduced viruses, established new surveillance testing paradigms, and initiated complex interactive networks, sharing surveillance data with mosquito control agencies and public health officials to speed mosquito control response times and to minimize disease risk to humans. Several examples of his continual scientific contributions include: the effects of climate variation on arthropod-borne pathogen transmission, modeling efforts for predicting arbovirus risk, the application of insecticides for reducing the disease burden of West Nile virus in California, the use of liquid suspension array technologies for the identification of mosquito blood meals and his keen observation of the role of stagnant swimming pools as breeding sites for Culex spp. vectors in Sacramento County.”

Internationally known for his mosquito research and publications spanning more than four decades, Reisen is now  professor emeritus, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI), School of Veterinary Medicine and serves as the editor of the Journal of Medical Entomology. He is a former director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases (CVEC), comprised of researchers throughout the state and based on the UC Davis campus. Throughout his UC Davis career, Reisen has advised many graduate students affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, PMI or CVEC.  He is currently assisting four doctoral candidates and one master's degree candidate.

Reisen is one of only three UC recipients of this statewide award since 1981. William C. Reeves (1916-2004), UC Berkeley emeritus professor of epidemiology, received the award in 1981 and Bruce F. Eldridge, former director of the statewide UC Mosquito Research Program, based at UC Davis, and now professor emeritus of entomology,  received the award in 1997.

Mussen's latest award is an engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. In presenting him with the coveted award, Robert "Bob" Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California, told him: "Eric, we honor your service as a Cooperative Extension Apiculture Specialist. Your leadership has been invaluable to both the almond and beekeeping communities as the authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries.  Even now in your retirement you have been instrumental in the development of Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds and extending this information to all pollination stakeholders."

For 38 years, Mussen served as a university liaison, Scientific Advisory Board member, reviewer of research proposals and a designated speaker for the Almond Board of California. As an emeritus, he continues some of that involvement. In addition to his many duties, for 38 years Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) last year honored him with the Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension. 

Mussen, who joined the UC Davis department in 1976, became 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. (The new Extension apiculturist is Elina Niño from Pennsylvania State University. Check out her engaging and informative lab website.)

Mussen and Reisen may be far apart in their choice of insects to study, but they are close together in their commitment, dedication and passion that marked their phenomenal careers.

Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen with his engraved clock from the Almond Board of California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)
Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)

Medical entomologist William Reisen (left) with a MVCAC plaque presented by Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. (Photo by Jill Oviatt, MVCAC)

Posted on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 4:16 PM
Tags: Eric Mussen (190), honey bees (54), mosquitoes (1), William Reisen (1)

'Super Sleuth' Solves the Mystery of the Dead Bees

Honey bee "resting," too cold to fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's killing the honey bees?

The email arrived in my UC Davis inbox at 9:10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 8.

An employee from the UC Davis Plumbing Shop wondered what was happening in front of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. "There are dead bees everywhere," he wrote, adding that "There were some grounds workers waiting for the UC Davis bus in front of Mondavi, and they commented that they also saw dead bees everywhere in their grounds-keeping areas."

Did the cold spell have something to do with this? But why would honey bees be outside their colony? Honey bees don't fly until the temperature reaches around 55 degrees. 

What was happening?

Super sleuth Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, arrived on the scene. He was appropriately dressed in a trenchcoat, a la Sherlock Holmes (Note that Sherlock Holmes, aka physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a beekeeper, too, according to Wikipedia). 

Bee colony could be "up there," on or near the roof. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Yes, dozens of dead bees were everywhere and many had been stepped on, their gold pollen loads smashed. There weren't as many as initially thought; no doubt hungry birds ate some of them, and others had been swept up.

Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service,  picked up some of the dead bees and noticed that nearly half had small-to-large pollen loads on their legs. Their wings were not tattered. He quickly deduced that the bees had not worn themselves out foraging.

"However, this early in the season, many of the foraging bees are bees that survived since last fall," Mussen said. "Depending upon their overall health, they were working toward the ends of their lives."

Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights showed him dead bees on an upper outdoor patio. So the bees were not only dying at ground level but upper levels, Mussen realized.

He noticed some bees flying up over the roof and some live bees "resting" on various parts of the building.

"There's a colony up there somewhere," Mussen said, pointing toward the roof.

Mussen cupped some of the sluggish bees in his hands, and once warmed, off they flew. The other survivors? They were too cold to fly and they would die overnight as the temperature dropped.

Mystery solved. "Elementary, my dear Watson?" No, not really. It's a scene that non-beekeepers rarely see.

"So, it appears that an older population of bees from a colony nesting around the top of the building were foraging near the ends of their lives," Mussen said. "They could not adequately produce enough body heat to keep foraging and they  could not adequately produce enough body heat to fly back to their colony and they were falling to the ground, basically exhausted."

"This is normal and no reason for alarm," Mussen said, "except that people usually are not that close to bee colonies to notice the normal demise of substantial numbers of overwintering bees."

So, it wasn't pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition or stress.

Old bees and a cold spell...

This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, January 19, 2015 at 5:35 PM

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