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Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen

Honey Bees Need Water, Too!

These triple-digit temperatures make us all thirst for water.

Honey bees need water, too.

If you see them taking a sip from your birdbath or taking a dip in your pool, the "sip" means they're collecting water for their hive, and the "dip" could mean they're dying, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

"Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water," he points out. "Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do.  Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food.  They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive.  Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."

On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease, Mussen says. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."

Unlike us, honey bees cannot simply turn on a faucet. "They will fly up to nearly five miles to find a suitable watering source," Mussen says. "Suitable to honey bees might not be suitable to us, but if it is moist, it may be visited.  Suitable to the neighbors is a separate question.  Honey bees can become quite a nuisance if they visit drippy irrigation lines or hose connections, birdbaths, pet water dishes, swimming pools, fountains, or wet laundry and the like. The water foragers become habituated to those sites.  If you try to dissuade the bees by drying up the source for a while, it becomes evident that the bees will visit the site every so often so they'll be around quickly after the water is returned."What to do? "People have tried to use repellents in the water, but the bees are likely to use the odor as an attractant when attempting to relocate the water source," Mussen points out.  "Some people have had success keeping bees and wasps out of their swimming pools with very lightweight oils or monomolecular films--their purpose is to prevent mosquitoes from being able to breathe.  But, if the water is splashed very much, you'll require a new layer."

And all those bees struggling in your swimming pool? "Not all moribund honey bees in a swimming pool are there because they were trying to get a drink. Every day, approximately 1,000 old honey bees from each colony die naturally.  This normally occurs during foraging, and the bees just flutter down to the ground, sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, or whatever they were passing over.  Some flutter into swimming pools.  They are not dead, yet, so they can and do inflict stings on people who bump into them on the surface of the water. "

Beekeepers should make sure there's a watering source on their property so the bees won't hunt for water elsewhere, Musssen says. It should be available all year around. "Once the bees are habituated to the site, most of them will use that source."

One good thing to know: Bees don't like to get their feet wet. In the Garvey birdbath, we have floating wine corks just for the bees. They can land on a cork to sip water or simply sip from the edge of the birdbath. Besides wine corks, you can also use a stone, a twig or a flat chunk of cork. The Melissa Garden, a privately owned garden in Healdsburg that was designed by internationally distinguished bee garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, includes a flat floating cork in a fountain. On any given day, you'll see bees claiming it as their own.

Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 10:33 PM
Tags: Eric Mussen (173), honey bees (47), Kate Frey (1), The Melissa Garden (1), water (3)

End of an Era for Eric Mussen

Eric Mussen at his honey-tasting event at UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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,
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!

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen in front of the apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen in front of the apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen in front of the apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen with his outstanding service award from UC ANR. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Eric Mussen with his outstanding service award from UC ANR. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen with his outstanding service award from UC ANR. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 9:56 PM

The Bee Team Visits the Haven

A mating pair of European wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) on lamb's ear. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It was a bee-utiful day for "The Bee Team" to tour the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.

Visiting entomologist May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this morning stopped by the haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, to see the bee activity.

Joining her were Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; bee scientist Brian Johnson, assistant professor of entomology, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, all of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

The garden, planted in the fall of 2009, is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is open year around, from dawn to dusk and maintained by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Berenbaum, who will become the fifth woman president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America in 2016, saw honey bees foraging on pomegranate and flowering artichoke blossoms and other flowers. Thorp pointed out the Valley carpenter bees, mountain carpenter bees, European wool carder bees, yellow-faced bumble bees and black-tailed bumble bees.

Thorp, who monitors the garden for bees, has found some 85 different species of bees--"and counting"--over the last five years. He began forming baseline data a year before the garden was planted.

The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own. Häagen-Dazs, a premier ice cream brand, generously supports the garden.

The garden design is the work of a Sausalito team which won the international design competition using a series of interconnected gardens with such names as “Honeycomb Hideout,” "Orchard Alley,”  "Growers' Circle," “Round Dance Circle” and “Waggle Dance Way."  

The team: landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki.

The art work in the garden is by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by entomologist/associate dean Diane Ullman and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick. Billick also created the six-foot long worker bee sculpture that anchors the garden. The sculpture, which Billick cleverly named "Miss Bee Haven," is of mosaic ceramic.

Berenbaum visited the UC Davis campus May 20-21 to deliver two presentations as part of the Storer Lectureships: "Bees in Crisis: Colony Collapse, Honey Laundering and Other Problems Bee-Setting American Apiculture" on May 20 and "Sex and the Single Parsnip: Coping with Florivores and Pollinators in Two Hemispheres" on May 21. (Click on this link to watch a video of her talk, "Bees in Crisis.")

Berenbaum, a talented scientist, dedicated researcher, dynamic speaker, creative author, and an insect ambassador who wants people to overcome their fear of insects, focuses her research on the chemical interactions between herbivorous insects and their host plants, and the implications of these interactions on the organization of natural communities and the evolution of species.

As as a spokesperson for the scientific community on the honey bee colony collapse disorder, Berenbaum has conducted research, written op-ed essays and testified before Congress on the issue. 

The Bee Team: In front are bee scientist Brian Johnson of UC Davis and May Berenbaum, professor and head of Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In back are native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis. The sculpture is by Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Bee Team: In front are bee scientist Brian Johnson of UC Davis and May Berenbaum, professor and head of Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In back are native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis. The sculpture is by Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bee Team: In front are bee scientist Brian Johnson of UC Davis and May Berenbaum, professor and head of Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In back are native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis. The sculpture is by Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen points out a honey bee on a pomegranate blossom as entomologist May Berenbaum takes a photo with her cell phone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen points out a honey bee on a pomegranate blossom as entomologist May Berenbaum takes a photo with her cell phone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen points out a honey bee on a pomegranate blossom as entomologist May Berenbaum takes a photo with her cell phone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Entomologist May Berenbaum moves in for a photo of honey bees on a flowering artichoke. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologist May Berenbaum moves in for a photo of honey bees on a flowering artichoke. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Entomologist May Berenbaum moves in for a photo of honey bees on a flowering artichoke. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Bee-ing There and Bee-Lieving in the Bees

Pam Kan-Rice photographs bees in a bowl of artificial nectar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Just call it a "practice run." Or a "buzz run."

Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) vowed last year to wear bees if she received at least $2500 in donations for UC student scholarships through the "Promise for Education" fundraising drive.

She did and she will. Wear honey bees that is. This week. Bee-lieve it.

Allen-Diaz chose her project to highlight the importance of pollinators to the health of agriculture and the planet.

Professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology and retired bee research scientist at UC Davis, will train bees to buzz into her open hands to sip nectar.

The event, dubbed "Operation Pollination," also will be his last professional bee stunt. "This is absolutely my last performance as a professional bee wrangler," said Gary,  considered the world's best bee wrangler.  "The remainder of my retirement years will be devoted to music, not bees."

Photos and/or video from the event are scheduled be posted on social media sometime Thursday, May 1.

So last week, the "B" Team did a buzz run. The "B" Team, led by Gary, included Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, yours truly and three members of UC ANR:

  • Pam Kan-Rice, assistant director, News and Information Outreach 
Communication Services and Information Technology
  • Ray Lucas, senior producer/director, Digital Media, and
  • Evett Kilmartin, digital media librarian.

Norm Gary will give up professional bee wrangling for his music. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We all watched as Gary applied his patented artificial nectar to the  Kan-Rice's outstretched hands. His "girls" lapped up the nectar and sought more.

Was Kan-Rice a little apprehensive? Not at all. A former ag reporter based in Fresno, she felt quite comfortable around them, as Gary assured her she would.  "They felt fuzzy, wuzzy and warm," she said, adding matter-of-factly: "I've never been stung by a bee."

The artificial nectar? "I make it with ordinary table sugar … about half sugar and half water," Gary said. "Then I add one tiny drop for flavoring, such as anise, that provides a fragrance that attracts bees.  Almost any flavor will work fine … peppermint, lavender, etc.  My artificial nectar is as good, maybe better, than natural nectar.  At least the bees respond 100 percent!  People don't realize that table sugar (sucrose) is perhaps the purest natural product on the market.  It is identical to the sucrose found in natural nectar."

Gary retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career.  He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed research publications and most recently wrote a book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees.

During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades,  Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits include 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.

He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar.  He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."

So, come Thursday, the social insects in the hands of Barbara Allen-Diaz will be on the social media.

"This is absolutely my last performance as a professional bee wrangler," Norm Gary says.
Meanwhile, Gary and Mussen are offering her advice, suggesting she wear pastel colors and no perfume.

"Foraging bees do not react defensively to color whatsoever," Gary said. "Beekeepers wear white because bees can be defensive during hive manipulations and tend to react to darker colors...bees away from the hive during foraging and pollination normally do not sting unless physically molested, such as picking them up.  Most stings are from yellow jackets and wasps but lay people think they have been stung by a bee."

Said Mussen: '"The few 'trained' bees that Norm will be using won't even be around a hive.  Their likelihood of stinging anything or anyone is as close to zero as it can get, as long as we 'beehave.'  No jerky movements.  No swatting at bees around the face; no blowing the bees away from your face."

After Gary's last bee wrangling stunt, he will be totally focused on his music. He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute. 

"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue.  Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend.  We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc.  We play swing-music style, too. " 

Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor.  "We'll perform for the Monterey Jazz Society on May 18.  Our bass sax and trumpet players are extremely talented ladies who live in Eugene, Ore.  Our banjo/guitarist/vocalist lives in Sonoma.  I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals.  And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."

That would be the "B" flat clarinet. 

Honey bees in the hands of Pam Kan-Rice. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees in the hands of Pam Kan-Rice. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees in the hands of Pam Kan-Rice. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Making a beeline for her watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Making a beeline for her watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Making a beeline for her watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bees are drawn to the special artificial nectar placed on a plastic plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees are drawn to the special artificial nectar placed on a plastic plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bees are drawn to the special artificial nectar placed on a plastic plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2014 at 10:30 PM

Trouble in the Almond Orchards

Beekeepers and almond growers are concerned--and rightfully so--about the some 80,000 bee colonies that died this year in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards. In monetary terms, that's a loss of about $180,000. But the loss isn't just financial. It could have long-term effects.

Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site. This is a serious blow to both industries. Growers need the bees to pollinate their almonds. Now some beekeepers are vowing this is it; they'll never to return for another almond pollination season.

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology talks about the issue in his latest edition of from the uc apiaries, published today on his website.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" he asks. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."

"Why might beekeepers desire to move their hives out of the orchards 'early?' Once the almonds no longer provide nectar and pollen for the bees, the bees find replacement sources of food. Unfortunately, those sources may be contaminated with pesticides that almond growers would never use when the bees are present. Some common pests that surge right near the end of almond bloom include Egyptian alfalfa weevil larvae and aphids in alfalfa, and grape cutworms in vineyards. Delayed dormant sprays sometimes are being applied in other deciduous fruit orchards, even when the trees are in bloom. Often blooming weeds in the crops are attracting honey bees. If the year is really dry, the bees may be attracted to sugary secretions of aphids and other sucking bugs."

Mussen says it's "not difficult to see that accidental bee poisonings often happen. Despite our California regulations requiring beekeepers to be notified of applications of bee-toxic chemicals within a mile of the apiaries, bees fly up to four miles from their hives to find food and water. That is an area of 50 square miles in which they may find clean or contaminated food sources. Thus, growers whose fields are 'nowhere near' any known apiary locations may accidentally kill many bees with chemical applications."

"It seems," Mussen says, "that a combination of exposures of colonies to truly bee-toxic insecticides, followed by delayed effects of exposure to fungicide/IGR mixes during bloom, really set the bees way behind. The problem proved so severe that a number of beekeepers stated that they were never returning to California for almond pollination. That is not a good thing, since we really don't have too many colonies coming to almonds as it is."

In his newsletter, Mussen goes into depth about when and how bees pollinate the almonds and what could be causing the problem and how it can be resolved.

His take-home message? "Our honey bees cannot continue to be exposed to as many toxic agricultural products as they are, or we will not have enough bees to fill the pollination demand for our nuts, fruits, vegetable, forage and seed crops."

That's serious business.

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 9:21 PM

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