“I am basically all pro-bee. Whatever I can do for bees, I do it.”

So says Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the University of California, Davis in a two-part cover story in the American Bee Journal (ABJ).

Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, definitely knows his bees, said author and master beekeeper M.E.A. (“Mea”) McNeil of San Anselmo.

McNeil describes Mussen by what he does: “lecturing to bee clubs and university classes, doing media interviews, writing and editing science articles, participating in hands-on studies, organizing conferences, submitting pesticide label recommendations, writing a newsletter and responding to questions from the public and professionals.”

Mussen, who received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts, and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Minnesota, credits his grandfather with sparking his interest in insects, McNeil recounts. His grandfather, a self-taught naturalist, would take his young grandson to the woods to point out flora and fauna.

As a child, “my only concern was what if, by the time I went to college and became an entomologist, everything we wanted to know about insects was known,” Mussen told McNeil.

When he enrolled in graduate school, the only research opening was in the Basil Furgala lab. Furgala, who researched bee viruses, took him to the apiary, “grabbed a bee" and let it sting him to make sure he would work there,” McNeil wrote.

Mussen’s passion for bees is well expressed in the ABJ article. “It doesn’t matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies,” Mussen told her. “Bees are bees and the bees’ needs are the bees’ needs.”

Of the ABJ feature, Mussen said Sept. 23: “I am honored to have been selected by Mea as someone worthy of being featured in a national publication. It always is pleasant to receive a pat on the back.”

ABJ, established in 1861 by Samuel Wagner, has been published continuously since that time, except for a brief period during the Civil War. It is now published by Dadant and Sons and ranks as the oldest English language beekeeping publication in the world. It draws its readership from hobby and commercial beekeepers, bee supply dealers, queen breeders, package-bee shippers, honey packers, and entomologists.

Beekeeper of the Year

Mussen, considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, was named the California Beekeeper of the Year in 2006, won the American Association of Professional Apiculturists’ Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture in 2007, and in 2008  he received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America. He received the statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator Award in 2010.

Mussen educates the beekeeping industry and general public with his bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, which he launched in 1976. Since 1976, he has also written Bee Briefs, addressing such issues as diseases, pesticides and swarms. Both publications are on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site.

“Eric is a worldwide authority on honey bees, but no problem is too small and no question too involved for him to answer,” said Extension specialist Larry Godfrey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who nominated Mussen for the Pedro Illic award.  “He devotes his research and extension activities to the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices. Eric helps growers, consumers, UC Farm Advisors, agricultural commissioners, scientists, beekeepers, researchers, pesticide regulators, 4-H’ers, and state and national agricultural and apicultural organizations. He ignites their interest in maintaining the health of bees, cultivates their friendship, and generously gives of his time and intellect.”

With the decline of the honey bee population and the increase of the mysterious colony collapse disorder, his expertise is now more highly sought than ever,” Godfrey pointed out. “Any threat to honey bees is a threat to agriculture and a cause for his concern and a desire to assist. He is the only Extension Apiculturist in the UC system and in many regards, functions as the Extension entomologist for apiculture in the western U.S. and indeed, much of the country.”

Mussen is a five-time president of the Western Apicultural Society, an organization he helped found in 1977. He's delivered the keynote addresses at the California State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA) and at the American Honey Producers’ Association conventions. In addition, he provides leadership roles in the CSBA, the California Bee Breeders’ Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers’ Association, National Honey Board, American Beekeeping Federation, American Association of Professional Apiculturists, and the Northern California Entomology Society, among others.

Mussen periodically speaks to some 20 beekeeping organizations a year, taking time from his busy schedule (often on the weekends and evenings) to travel to all parts of California and beyond. Mussen also mans the honey-tasting table at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day, where he encourages patrons to sample honey and ask questions. He displayed an observation hive at the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Dixon May Fair, where he answered questions from fairgoers.

Open to all

“He is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child’s question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” Godfrey said.

Mussen, who is the UC Davis representative to the California State Apiary Board, offers input to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, particularly with the pesticide registration group. Lately he assisted U.S. beekeepers in writing letters to receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their CCD (colony collapse disorder) bee losses.

Mussen works closely with Cooperation Extension, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, researchers in the UC system, researchers at the USDA/ARS honey bee laboratories at Beltsville, Md; Baton Rouge, La.; Tucson, Ariz., Weslaco, Texas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

Mussen serves on various committees and task forces of state and national organizations, reviews numerous manuscripts for journals; reviews annual research proposals to the California State Beekeepers’ Association, the Almond Board of California, and the National Honey Board; reviews Small Business Innovation Research applications at the federal level; and is requested to comment on promotion evaluations for university and USDA researchers.

For the last 10 years, Mussen has been in charge of the California State 4-H Bee Essay Contest, disseminating guidelines, collecting entries and chairing the judging. The state winner advances to national competition. This year's California winner, Rachel Ricchiuto, 14, of Gold River, won the national award.

A popular bee spokesperson, Mussen has been interviewed by the BBC, Lehrer Hour, Associated Press, National Public Radio, Good Morning America, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, KGO Radio, Boston Globe and scores of other media. Two of his videos on bee health appear on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site and the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. An hour-long video on colony collapse disorder is on the national eXtension Web site.

(Editor’s Note: For links to the ABJ (used with permission) see:  http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/news/ericmusseninabj.html