Honey Bee Expert Receives Special Award From His Alma Mater

by Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Dept. of Entomology

Eric Mussen

DAVIS, CALIF.–Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, has received scores of awards during his career, and now he’s received one from his alma mater.

Mussen has been named the recipient of the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota. He will receive the award at a ceremony on Thursday, May 30 in the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus.

A native of Schenectady, N.Y., Mussen received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts (after turning down an offer to play football at Harvard) and then received his master’s degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and 1975, respectively.

His doctoral research focused on the epidemiology of a viral disease of larval honey bees, sacbrood virus.  “During those studies I also was involved in studies concerning sunflower pollination and control of a microsporidian parasite of honey bees, Nosema apis,” Mussen recalled.  “Now a new species of Nosema has displaced N. apis and is even more difficult to keep subdued.”

“Given this foundation, he was confronted with many new challenges regarding honey bee health and pollination concerns when he arrived at UC Davis in 1976,” said William Hutchison, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. “Some 37 years later, he is still actively ‘tackling’ these new challenges–mites, diseases, and Africanized honey bees, to name a few–to enhance the pollination success of California’s diverse agricultural cropping systems, with considerable emphasis on almonds. In brief, he is in demand, and he continues to be the primary source for objective information on honey bee health, and pollination in California.”

Professors H.C. Chiang and Basil Furgala supervised his graduate work.

“I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in the 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.”

Mussen, who plans to retire from UC Davis in June 2014, credits his grandfather with sparking his interest in insects. 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 writer Mea McNeil for the American Bee Journal series.

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

Mussen’s nomination packet included the following comments:

  • “Eric is without a doubt the epitome of a State Extension Specialist.”
  • “Without a doubt, Dr. Mussen is the premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and is one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide.”
  • “He is a treasure to the beekeeping industry… he is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees.”
  • “He is a trusted information source.”

Considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, Mussen 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, with four other colleagues, comprised the UC Davis Bee Team that won the 2013 team award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.

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.

“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 was a founder and alternated between president and secretary/treasurer of the American Association of Professional Apiculturists for many years. 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, and the Northern California Entomology Society, among others.

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. He 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.

Highly sought by the news media for his expertise on bees, Mussen has appeared on the Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, and quoted in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times,  among others.

He was nominated by Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Apiculture (former recipient of the award), and Gary Reuter, apiculture technician, both with the University of Minnesota. Faculty and staff from UC Davis contributed to the nomination package.

The award memorializes Alexander C. Hodson, Department Head from 1960-1974 who died on March 13, 1966 at the age of 89. Hodson, born in Reading, Mass., received his master’s degree in 1931 and his doctorate in 1935 from the University of Minnesota. The Hodson Graduate Alumni Award was established in 1998 to recognize and honor outstanding alumni of the Department of Entomology.