Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
The BBC this week examined colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious phenomonen characterized by bees abandoning their hives. The adult bees buzz off, leaving the brood and stored food behind. They do not return.
Many bee specialists believe it's not just one thing causing CCD--it's a combination of factors or a "perfect storm": parasites, pesticides, malnutrition, stress, diseases and global weather changes.
The blood-sucking varroa mite, a parasite of honey bees, is a contributing factor in the decline of bee health.
When the BBC interviewed Cooperative Exension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Entomology Department faculty about varroa mites, he said that the European or western honey bee doesn't "do a good job" of removing them. To a human, the varroa mite would be about the size of a softball "running around on you."
The varroa mite, Mussen said, is problematic because of three things:
1. It sucks the so-called bee blood, making the bee nutritionally weaker
2. It interferes with the immune system
3. The varroa can get viruses on its mouthparts so it inoculates bees with viruses as it travels from one bee to another.
Listen to Mussen talk about the varroa mite as he examines it under a microscope. Then imagine a softball-sized bloodsucker on you.
Varroa mite on drone
Claire Preston isn't a beekeeper but she's written an informative book titled Bee.
Published in 2006 by Reaktion Books,
Her 10 chapters tantalize us with such headings as "The Reason for Bees," "Biological Bee," "Kept Bee," "Political Bee," "Pious/Corrupt Bee," "Utile Bee," Aesthetic Bee," "Folkloric Bee," "Playful Bee," "Bee Movie" and the last, "Retired Bee."
But back to Bee.
Preston traces the history of bees (Apis mellifera) to southern Asia: bees probably originated in Afghanistan, she says. They were imported to South America in the 1530s and to what is now the United States (Virginia) in 1621. Native Americans called them "The Englishman's fly."
Preston calls the bee "Nature's workaholic" and borrowing a comment from Sue Monk Kidd's superb novel, The Secret Life of Bees, remarks: "You could not stop a bee from working if you tried."
"The most talented specialists (in the bee colony) are the workers," Preston writes. "They are the builders, brood-nurses, honey-makers, pollen-stampers, guards, porters, and foragers, and those tasks are related to their developmental age."
"All worker bees, in other words, take up these functions in succession as they mature, with the newest workers undertaking nursing, cleaning, building and repair in the nest, somewhat older workers making honey and standing guard, and the oldest bees foraging for pollen and nectar."
Frankly, bees are social insects in a highly social organization. They don't waver from their duties. The queen's job is to mate and then lay eggs for the rest of her life. The drone's job is to mate and then die. If the drones make it to autumn, the worker bees drive them from the hives "to die of starvation," Preston writes. "This exclusion of some hundreds of drones each autumn is one of the most remarkable sights in the animal kingdom. The workers are pitiless: drones do no work in the maintenance of the colony and cannot even feed themselves, so they cannot be allowed to overwinter and consume precious resources."
It's a sad time, to be sure. Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, tells us she feels sorry for the drones. "They're cold and hungry and get pushed out of the hive."
And, as UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen says: "First the workers quit feeding them (drones) so they're light enough to push out."
But as winter ebbs away and spring beckons, soon each hive will be teeming with some 50,000 to 60,000 bees. And all those worker bees--which Preston calls "agricultural workers"--will be turning into Nature's workaholics.
They'll never be promoted to CEO, though.
Not a chance./st1:place>/st1:placename>/st1:placetype>/st1:placetype>/st1:placename>/st1:placename>/st1:place>/st1:placename>/st1:city>/st1:country-region>/st1:place>/st1:country-region>/st1:place>/st1:state>/st1:state>/st1:state>/st1:state>/u1:smarttagtype>/u1:smarttagtype>/u1:smarttagtype>/u1:smarttagtype>/u1:smarttagtype>/u1:smarttagtype>/o:p>/o:p>/st1:city>/st1:place>/o:p>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>
Queen Bee and Workers
UC Davis Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty for 32 years, says this looks like a challenging year for almond growers.
There's this water problem. Think "drought."
There's this honey bee crisis. Think "bee health" and "declining bee population."
Then there's these increased production costs. Think "tanked economy."
Christine Souza, assistant editor of Ag Alert, published by the California Farm Bureau Federation, wrote an excellent article in the Jan. 28th edition about the problems almond growers and beekeepers alike are facing.
Headlined "Challenges Face Almond Growers and Beekeepers," the article began:
A reduction in almond prices, limited water availability, increased production costs and the declining health of bees may all influence what happens during this year's almond bloom, impacting both almond growers and beekeepers.
Speaking at the Almond Board of California annual meeting last month, board member Dan Cummings warned his audience that this spring could be "dicey" for almond growers and beekeepers alike.
"Bees are competing for almond growers' money the same as water, fertilizer, fuel and all of our other inputs, at a time when the price of almonds has dropped. So we will be rationalizing where we go with our bees," said Cummings, who farms almonds in Chico and is co-owner of a full-service beekeeping operation. "We will be fallowing some other crops to direct water to almonds and perhaps abandoning almond orchards."
As a result, he said he believes many growers may reduce the amount of honeybee colonies that they place into the orchards for pollination during bloom, to save money.
And all this is happening right now. We saw the first almond blossoms this week in Yolo and Solano counties, a sure sign that spring can't be far behind.
Mussen told Souza that beekeepers are most concerned about the health of their bees, "whether they operate one colony in the backyard or thousands of colonies throughout the country."
"Money is important," Mussen told her, "because it costs nearly $150 to keep a commercial colony alive and productive over a year. Without that income the bees would be lost and the beekeeper would be out of business."
Get ready for the bumpy ride. Take a deep breath. And, as the bumpersticker says: Get in, sit down, and hold on tight.
This may be like Disneyland's Big Thunder rollercoaster that twists through mine shafts, bat caves and caverns.
And watch for the falling rocks.
Honey bee and almond blossom
She enclosed $20 from her allowance savings.
Hannah Fisher Gray, 11, of
Hannah collected $110 at her birthday party and then contributed $110 from her own money so that both UC Davis and
The girls are the newest bee crusaders, said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
“These are very generous gifts from the heart,” Kimsey said. “It’s very touching that these girls would take a special interest in helping us save the honey bees.”
Hannah, a fifth grader from
In the letter, Hannah expressed her concern “about our environment and its creatures, especially the honey bees.”
“I saw the Häagen-Dazs commercial and I instantly wanted to learn more,” she wrote. “I researched about bees and learned ways I could help, such as donating money, using honey instead of sugar, planting honeybee-friendly plants and supporting beekeepers.”
“For my birthday party, I asked my guests to make gifts of money to support honeybee research instead of giving presents for me. The total of these gifts was $110. I am making a matching gift of $110 of my own money, and splitting the gift between the
One of Hannah’s birthday gifts was a T-shirt proclaiming “Bee a Hero.” And, in keeping with her passion for bees, she dressed in a honey bee costume last Halloween.
Hannah learned of the troubling bee crisis from the national Häagen-Dazs campaign, launched Feb. 19 to create awareness for the plight of the honey bee. Nearly 40 percent of Häagen-Dazs brand ice cream flavors are linked to fruits and nuts pollinated by bees.
Katie Brown learned of the plight of the honey bees through the Häagen-Dazs Web site, www.helpthehoneybees.com.
Her mother, Molly Pont-Brown, said that Katie "gets a portion of her allowance each week for charity and had been wanting to help the bees and saving up for a long time, so we were looking online for ways to help the bees and stumbled upon their (Häagen-Dazs) program.”
In her donation letter to UC Davis, Katie drew the Häagen-Dazs symbol, “HD Loves HB,” and two smiling bees. She signed her name with three hearts.
Eager to share information with her classmates on the plight of the honey bees, Katie took photos of foods that bees pollinate and served Honey Bee Vanilla ice cream, the new flavor that Häagen-Dazs created last year as part of its bee crisis-awareness campaign.
Katie is "about to give another $40 additionally from her Star Student Week," her mother said. The six-year-old chose to donate $2 per child to the honey bee research program instead of buying the customary trinkets for them. Katie also sent each classmate a “bee-mail” from the Häagen-Dazs Web site to let them know about it.
For Christmas, Katie received a Häagen-Dazs bee shirt and bee books from her family. Her grandmother in
“What a great thing (the drive to save the bees) for Häagen-Dazs to do,” Molly Pont-Brown wrote in a letter to UC Davis. “And, of course, we appreciate all your department is doing to help the very important honeybees with your research, as well!”
When told of the
As part of its national campaign, Häagen-Dazs last February committed a total of $250,000 for bee research to UC Davis and
The Häagen-Dazs brand is also funding a design competition to create a half-acre honey bee haven garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. The deadline to submit entries is Jan. 30.
UC Davis Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty for 32 years, said the bee population "still has not recovered from previous losses." Some of the nation's beekeepers have reported losing one-third to 100 percent of their bees due to colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which bee mysteriously abandon their hives. He attributes CCD to multiple factors, including diseases, parasites, pesticides, malnutrition, stress and climate change.
"Bees pollinate about 100 agricultural crops, or about one-third of the food that we eat daily," Mussen said.
Those interesting in donating to the honey bee research program at UC Davis or learning more about the design competition for the honey bee haven can access the Department of Entomology home page.
Letter to bee scientists
Hannah Fisher Gray
Who put the “killer” in “killer bees?”
Someone named “B. Melon” asked that question on the “Strange but True” segment of the Web site, readthehook.com.
To answer the bee question, Bill Sones and Rich Sones did what many do. They asked UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen, a Cooperative Extension specialist and UC Davis faculty member for the past 32 years.
The answer, printed today:
A single Africanized honeybee releases no more venom than other bees but does react more vigorously to the "alarm pheromone" released, staying agitated longer, says
So instead of a dozen frenzied bees pursuing a victim for 100 yards, thousands from the colony of 30,000 may pursue, some up to a quarter mile. Yikes.
Even a world class sprinter couldn't outrun them at 20+ miles per hour, though fortunately most of the bees won't pursue very far. But one
Scary, but true. The Africanized bees are the pit bulls of the bee world. With pit bulls, it's this scenario: Guy and his dog out for a walk, pit bull charges them, pit bull rips open the throat of the dog and/or man, police respond and kill the pit bull and/or pit bull is euthanized. Pit bull owner maintains dog is so gentle that it "wouldn't hurt a fly." Or a baby...
With Africanized bees, it’s this scenario: Guy out for a walk, bees attack him, guy moves fast, bees move faster, guy in serious condition. Guy says he never thought the swarm of bees would follow him that long. Or that there would be that many.
Which reminds me of the email I received about 10 years ago about two hunters walking through the woods when they encounter a bear. One hunger unlaces his boots and slides on a pair of running shoes.
“What are you doing? You can’t outrun that bear!”
“No, but I can outrun you.”
But back to Eric Mussen and Africanized bees. Mussen served as the content advisor for a children's book, Africanized Honey Bees by Barbara A. Somervill, published this year by Cherry Lake Publishing, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest.
The book starts out: "In Copperas Cove, Texas, a couple is recovering from stings from hundreds of bees. Doctors stopped counting stings on the woman after they reached 500. Her husband has more than 100 stings--on each arm. Both had bees in their mouths and all over their faces. They were just getting into their car when they got the first stings. Neaby was a hollow tree that served as the bees' nest."
The bees, Somervill continues, were Africanized bees, an invasive species that breeds with our honey bees.
It's an interesting book. The cover features an image of an Africanized bee (which looks about like any other bee). Fact is, the only way you can tell an Africanized bee from the common European or Western honey bee is through a microscope.
Run for cover.