Email Print Site Map
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
University of California
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen

Bee BMP: 'A' for Communication

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Can you say "Bee BMP?"

That's a short-cut for "Bee Best Management Practices."

The Almond Board of California today unveiled its long-awaited "Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds."

It's an important document because it is aimed at protecting the honey bees that pollinate California's 900,000 acres of almonds. Last spring some 80,000 colonies died because pesticides reached them before the beekeepers did, that is, before the beekeepers could remove them from the orchards after pollination season. It amounted to a lack of communication.

The editors spelled out the importance of the document at the onset:

"Honey bees are essential for successful pollination of almonds and the long-term health of the California Almond industry. Why should almond growers — and all parties involved in almond pollination — care about healthy, strong bees? First, bees are a valuable resource and almond production input, and the time they spend in almonds impacts hive health throughout the year, from the time they leave almond orchards until they return the next season. Second, although almonds are only one of more than 90 foods that rely on pollination by bees, because of its size and number of bees needed, the California Almond industry is increasingly being watched by the public on matters related to the health and stability of honey bee populations. Of particular concern at this time is how to manage the use of pest control materials in ways that minimize their possible impact on honey bees. It is important that growers of all crops implement best management practices to support bee health, and for those whose crops rely on honey bee pollination, to consider honey bee health not only during the pollination season, but during the entire year."

The Bee BMP zeroed in on four key precautions:

1. Maintain clear communication among all parties involved, particularly on the specifics of pesticide application.
2. If it is necessary to spray the orchard, for instance with fungicides, do so in the late afternoon or evening.
3. Until more is known, avoid tank-mixing products during bloom.
4. Avoid applying insecticides during bloom until more is known about the effects on honey bees, particularly to young, developing bees in the hive. Fortunately, there are several insecticide application timing options other than bloom time treatments.

The document advocates that a clear chain of communication be established among all parties involved in pollination and pest management during almond bloom. This should definitely help prevent bee losses before, during and after the pollination season.

Three officials from the Almond Board of California did an excellent job editing the document and drawing input from the industries: 

  • Bob Curtis, associate director, Agricultural Affairs
  • Gabriele Ludwig, associate director, Environmental Affairs
  • Danielle Veenstra, specialist, Agricultural and Environmental Affairs

They received input from 10 contributing editors and reviewers: 

  • Gene Brandi, Gene Brandi Apiaries
  • Jackie Park-Burris, Jackie Park-Burris Queens
  • Orin Johnson, Johnson Apiaries
  • Gordon Wardell, director, Pollination Operations, Paramount Farming Company
  • George Farnsworth, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Karen Francone, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist retired, UC Davis
  • Thomas Steeger, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. EPA
  • CropLife America
  • Christi Heintz, Project Apis m.

You can download the document on the Almond Board of California website. (Look under "growers" at the top of the home page.)

Michael
Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Best Management Practices for Honey Bees

The Almond Board of California will unveil its Honey Bee Best Management Practices tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 16) in an ongoing effort to promote and protect bee health.

The board will do so by holding a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time with questions directed at Richard Waycott, CEO, Almond Board of California; 
Bob Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California
 and Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

It promises to be a comprehensive set of Best Management Practices or BMPs. Media members who wish to participate can access this page.

Remember last spring when beekeepers in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards reported losing 80,000 colonies?  Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site.

Mussen wrote about the issue in the March/April edition of his newsletter, from the UC apiaries, published on his website. We also blogged about it.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" Mussen asked. "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."

Communication is key to a good BMP. The Almond Board recently published three informational pieces, “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,” "Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds,” and “Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds” (in English and Spanish).

The topics include:

  • Preparing for arrival
  • Assessing hive strength and quality
  • Protecting honey bees at bloom
  • Honey bees and insecticides
  • Honey bees and fungicides
  • Using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays
  • Honey bees and self-compatible almond varieties
  • Best management practices for pest control during almond bloom
  • Removing honey bees from the orchard
  • Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses
  • What to expect in an investigation

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), headed by Dennis van Engelsdorp, produced three short videos as the result of a 2012-2013 beekeeping survey.  Project Apis m (PAm) published some of the information online about varroa mites, nosema, honey bee nutrition and the like.

It's important for almond growers and beekeepers to keep the lines of communication open. Bees make a "bee line" toward the almond blossoms, but the growers and the beekeepers don't always make a timely "bee line" toward one another to resolve issues that surface.

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond orchard buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 9:26 PM

Why Do Honey Bees Die When They Sting

Eric Mussen
"Why do honey bees die when they sting?"

That's the question PBS Newshour asked Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for its "Just Ask" feature.  

Mussen, who retired in June after 38 years of service but continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall on the UC Davis campus, has been stung plenty of times. And the whole world knew it when this photo of "The Sting" (below) went viral.

When a bee stings, it cannot remove its barbed stinger without yanking out its abdominal tissue, aka "guts." It's basically a suicide mission in defense of its hive. Of the three castes in the colony, only the female worker bee dies when it stings. The queen can sting multiple times. The drone (male) has no stinger.

The stinger is hollow and pointed, like a hypodermic needle, Mussen told PBS Newshour reporter Anna Christiansen. The stinger, he explained, contains two rows of lancets, or saw-toothed blades. 

Christianson also quoted Mark Winston, biologist and author of Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive (Harvard University Press) as saying that the blades alternate, “scissoring together into your flesh."

"It looks — and works — like a screw anchor, meaning that once in, the stinger can't retract," Christianson wrote. "Muscles connect the stinger to a venom sac, from which a cell-destroying toxin is pumped into the hole."

Mussen further explains bee stings in a UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Pest Note, Bee and Wasp Stings.

"Stingers are effective weapons because they deliver a venom that causes pain when injected into the skin," Mussen wrote. "The major chemical responsible for this is melittin; it stimulates the nerve endings of pain receptors in the skin. The result is a very uncomfortable sensation, which begins as a sharp pain that lasts a few minutes and then becomes a dull ache. Even up to a few days later, the tissue may still be sensitive to the touch."

"The body responds to stings by liberating fluid from the blood to flush venom components from the area. This causes redness and swelling at the sting site. If this isn't the first time the person has been stung by that species of insect, it is likely that the immune system will recognize the venom and enhance the disposal procedure. This can lead to very large swelling around the sting site or in a whole portion of the body. The area is quite likely to itch. Oral and topical antihistamines should help prevent or reduce the itching and swelling. Try not to rub or scratch the sting site, because microbes from the surface of the skin could be introduced into the wound, resulting in an infection."

Mussen says that nearly everyone has been stung by an insect at one time or another., and for beekeepers, it comes with the occupation.  "It's an unpleasant experience that people hope not to repeat, but for most people the damage inflicted is only temporary pain," Mussen wrote. "Only a very limited portion of the population—one to two people out of 1,000—is allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings. Although this publication is about stings from bees and wasps, the information pertains to stings from fire ants as well."

He warns that it is important to remove the stinger immediately because the venom will continue to pump for 45 to 60 seconds following a sting.  Mussen usually scrapes and removes the stinger with a fingernail. "Much has been written about the proper way to remove a bee stinger, but new information indicates it doesn't matter how you get it out as long as it is removed as soon as possible. Fingernails or the edge of a credit card are both effective tools. If a stinger is removed within 15 seconds of the sting, the severity of the sting is reduced."

Read more about bee stings in the PBS Newshour feature question, and in the UC IPM Pest Note, Bee and Wasp Stings.

A honey bee embeds its stinger in the wrist of Eric Mussen and then tries to pull away. Note the abdominal tissue trailing. (This is an actual photo of a bee sting; it was not posed.) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee embeds its stinger in the wrist of Eric Mussen and then tries to pull away. Note the abdominal tissue trailing. (This is an actual photo of a bee sting; it was not posed.) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee embeds its stinger in the wrist of Eric Mussen and then tries to pull away. Note the abdominal tissue trailing. (This is an actual photo of a bee sting; it was not posed.) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The bee has pulled away to die, leaving the stinger and abdominal tissue behind. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 5:39 PM
Tags: bee sting (7), Eric Mussen (180), honey bees (52), PBS Newshour (3), stinger (4)

Better Statistics for the Bees

Eric Mussen
The bees. What about the bees? How are they doing?

Better, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who today published the last edition of his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. Last? "Or, it's the last edition I'm solely responsible for."

Mussen retired in June after 38 years of service. Now it's "Welcome, Elina Lastro," who joined the department this week. 

"The summary data from this spring's suvey on winter colony loss is available for review on beeinformed.org, the public's entry to information from the Bee Informed Parnership (BIP)," Mussen wrote. "Since it is called winter loss, it does not necessarily  record the total losses in many operations because colonies are lost over the entire year, picking up considerably in fall and winter. Until recently the summer losses, often replaced using colony splits, were unreported. The good news is that the national average loss declined to 20.7 percent, the best in about a decade. Not many beekeepers blamed CCD (no logical explanation) for their losses, but mites and starvation were leading explanations." 

Mussen pointed out that "since the data was listed by state averages, I wondered if that data were placed on a map of the U.S., could we see some sort of regional patterns." So, he did just that.

"Using colored pencils and scribbling, I colored like a kindergartner (or at least like I did in kindergarten and still  do.), I did not see much of a pattern that stuck out. The states with the highest average losses (over 60 percent) did form a cluster (Illinois, Indiana and  Michigan). The states with losses in the 50 percent range were all east of the Mississippi River: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. States with losses in the 40 percent range were spread equally all over the country: Oregon, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut.

"States with losses in the 30 percent range filled in a swath of states just south of the 50 and 60 percent losses, as well as Washington, Utah, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. States with losses in the 20 percent range included seven of our southeastern states: Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas. California, Idaho, Oklahoma and Hawaii showed state average losses below 20 percent."

Be sure to check out his latest newsletter. His website also lists many of his other newsletters and the Bee Briefs he's written over the last 38 years.

 

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM

Will Hummingbird Syrup Harm the Bees?

It's no secret that honey bees like the sugar/water mixture in hummingbird feeders. If there's no bee guard on the feeder or if the feeder isn't bee-proofed, bees will sip the mixture. They also will lick the spills. A sudden gust that sways or upends the feeder is "bee happy time."

However, should we be attracting honey bees to our hummingbird feeders and/or providing them with sugar/water syrup?  Is the syrup mixture good for the bees?

Curious minds want to know.

One rural East Bay Area area resident who feeds the hummers and caters to honey bees in her garden asked that very question. Since bee guards prevent the short-tongued bees from reaching the food (hummers, as we all know, have long tongues), she hung "plant saucers from a tree with sponge in one and a terrycloth towel in the other so the liquid doesn't cause them to drown, and the bees swarm all over it to eat the sugar water. I can go through two gallons of sugar water a day.  Who knew bees could eat so much."

"Bees are in trouble elsewhere but not here," she shared. "I didn't intend to be a bee feeder.  I don't have hives for them or collect their honey."

The bees come to eat and she enjoys watching them eat. Her intention is to help the bees. "Walking into a swarm of bees to fill their feeders is thrilling.  I don't hurt them and they don't hurt me. And having them here is a simple way for me to educate people about the importance of bees and contrary to the common belief that we need to be afraid of them. People leave here with a different view of their gentleness and importance."

She makes a 3-to-1 ratio  (three parts water, one part sugar) for the hummers and bees. However, her neighbors wonder if she is harming them "because they need the protein from pollen" and the bees "might find the sugar water addictive."

Will it harm them?

Newly retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has answered a lot of humminbird feeder/bee questions during his 38-year career.

"Feeding honey bee colonies sugar syrup has been going on since man determined how to refine sugar from beets and canes," Mussen said. "However, in most cases, we feed these syrups to honey bee colonies only when they are short on nectar at times when nectar is critically important, especially for brood rearing in the spring and for making sure there is enough food in the hive to get the bees through winter."

"Nectars contain very small amounts of numerous plant-derived micronutrients that are essential to honey bees," he pointed out. "We have known that all along, but recently some research has documented that components of honey make the honey better for bees than sugar syrup.  Honey-fed bees have more robust immune systems, they learn locations of food sources more rapidly, and they forage more quickly than sugar syrup-fed bees."

So, the question: Is she harming the honey bee colonies with the syrup feeders? 

"I doubt it," Mussen said. "Some beekeepers feed hundreds of colonies from open buckets of sugar syrup in southern U.S. beekeeping operations, and their colonies do just fine.  However, I counsel against such an approach, since the strongest and least needy colonies get most of the syrup, leaving little behind for the weaker, more needy colonies.  Each should be fed individually with a hive feeder."

So bottom line, "If you wish to continue feeding the bees, they will keep taking the syrup.  However, since it is not nectar, the bees will be 'robbing' the syrup from its source.  The problem with that is that once robbing gets started, bees from one colony begin to try robbing from neighboring colonies.  The bees fight at the entrances and many are killed.  I am sure that we can say that many colonies are benefitting from your syrup in one respect--just like the hummers--but there are downsides to the practice."

In addition, beekeepers may find their honeycomb tinted red or polka-dotted. It's not honey; it's syrup.

A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: mdhachman@ucdavis.edu