Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
The email arrived in my UC Davis inbox at 9:10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 8.
An employee from the UC Davis Plumbing Shop wondered what was happening in front of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. "There are dead bees everywhere," he wrote, adding that "There were some grounds workers waiting for the UC Davis bus in front of Mondavi, and they commented that they also saw dead bees everywhere in their grounds-keeping areas."
Did the cold spell have something to do with this? But why would honey bees be outside their colony? Honey bees don't fly until the temperature reaches around 55 degrees.
What was happening?
Super sleuth Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, arrived on the scene. He was appropriately dressed in a trenchcoat, a la Sherlock Holmes (Note that Sherlock Holmes, aka physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a beekeeper, too, according to Wikipedia).
Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service, picked up some of the dead bees and noticed that nearly half had small-to-large pollen loads on their legs. Their wings were not tattered. He quickly deduced that the bees had not worn themselves out foraging.
"However, this early in the season, many of the foraging bees are bees that survived since last fall," Mussen said. "Depending upon their overall health, they were working toward the ends of their lives."
Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights showed him dead bees on an upper outdoor patio. So the bees were not only dying at ground level but upper levels, Mussen realized.
He noticed some bees flying up over the roof and some live bees "resting" on various parts of the building.
"There's a colony up there somewhere," Mussen said, pointing toward the roof.
Mussen cupped some of the sluggish bees in his hands, and once warmed, off they flew. The other survivors? They were too cold to fly and they would die overnight as the temperature dropped.
Mystery solved. "Elementary, my dear Watson?" No, not really. It's a scene that non-beekeepers rarely see.
"So, it appears that an older population of bees from a colony nesting around the top of the building were foraging near the ends of their lives," Mussen said. "They could not adequately produce enough body heat to keep foraging and they could not adequately produce enough body heat to fly back to their colony and they were falling to the ground, basically exhausted."
"This is normal and no reason for alarm," Mussen said, "except that people usually are not that close to bee colonies to notice the normal demise of substantial numbers of overwintering bees."
So, it wasn't pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition or stress.
Old bees and a cold spell...
This dead honey bee with a load of pollen was among dozens found outside the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee guru Eric Mussen explains bee behavior to Mondavi house manager Kerrilee Knights. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dead bees, with pollen loads intact. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When a rotten apple tree was cut down last week on private property in Davis, scores of eyes peered from the drilled holes. Soon, adult male Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta)--those green-eyed golden bees known as "teddy bears"--emerged with their female counterparts. The males and females look nothing alike; the females are solid black.
As entomologists know, the females drill holes in wood to lay their eggs. When the adult females and males emerge from their cells, they "wait it out" until spring or when the weather warms enough for them to take flight. It gets pretty cold in Davis.
Talented insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis got the carpenter-bee call. "My good friend's son, a football player up from Claremont, cut down the rotten apple tree," Jones said. Surprise! Insects began crawling from the drilled holes.
Jones knew immediately what they were. He's photographed hundreds of them. He picked up the golden bees, knowing that "boy bees can't sting" and delivered them to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
"The golden boys were all clinging together in a little ball when I left (the Laidlaw facility)," Jones said.
Thorp plans to keep them chilled to see if they survive the winter. They also will be part of "show and tell" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The male Valley carpenter bees are often mistaken for a new species of bumble bee. In fact, some refer to them as "golden bumble bees."
The Valley carpenter bees are the largest carpenter bee in California. They are included in the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, entomologist-photographer Rollin Coville and UC Berkeley botanist and curator Barbara Ertter.
Xylocopa varipuncta inhabits the Central Valley, Santa Clara Valley, and Southern California. At many garden events, visitors are surprised when Thorp picks up a male Valley carpenter bee and lets them hold it and feel the vibrating buzz.
"Boy bees can't sting," he tells them. "They're bluffing."
A male Valley carpenter bee (right) peers from a hole. A female (all females are solid black) occupies the hole next to him.
A cluster of male Valley carpenter bees.
Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen holds a handful of male Valley carpenter bees.
This male Valley carpenter bee backed into its drilled hole to keep warm.
It's time to revisit "The 13 Bugs of Christmas."
You've heard "The 12 Days of Christmas," beginning with a single "partridge in a pear tree" and ending with "12 drummers drumming." In between: two turtle doves, three french hens, four calling birds, five gold rings, six geese-a-laying, seven swans-a-swimming, eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping.
But have you heard "The 13 Bugs of Christmas?"
Back in 2010, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) and yours truly came up with a song about "The 13 Bugs of Christmas." Presented at the Department of Entomology's holiday party, it drew roaring applause. Then U.S. News featured it when reporter Paul Bedard picked it up.
It's still making the rounds, via tweets.
"The 13 Bugs of Christmas" is about a psyllid in a pear tree, six lice a'laying, 10 locusts leaping and 11 queen bees piping. Beekeepers know that distinctive sound of a queen bee piping.
"We attempted to keep the wording as close as possible for ‘The 12 Bugs of Christmas' and then we opted to spotlight some new agricultural pests in the next stanza," said Mussen, an Extension apiculturist with the department since 1976 who writes the bimonthly from the UC apiaries newsletter. He will be retiring in June 2014.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight ants a'milking, seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine mayflies dancing, eight ants a'milking, seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, nine mayflies dancing, eight ants a'milking, seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, nine mayflies dancing, eight ants a'milking, seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, nine mayflies dancing, eight ants a'milking, seven boatmen swimming, six lice a'laying, five golden bees, four calling cicadas, three French flies, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
Knowing the agony that Californians experience with the seemingly unending flood of pests, Mussen felt it "bugworthy" to add this verse:
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see: 13 Kaphra beetles, 12 Diaprepes weevils, 11 citrus psyllids, 10 Tropilaelaps clareae, nine melon fruitflies, eight Aedes aegypti, seven ash tree borers, six spotted-wing Drosophila, five gypsy moths, four Japanese beetles, three imported fire ants, two brown apple moths, and a medfly in a pear tree."
Mussen, who retired this year after 38 years of service, noted that "Tropilaelaps clareae" is a honey bee mite from Asia, as is the well-known Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), which was first detected in the United States (Wisconsin) in 1987 and is now beekeepers' No. 1 problem.
It's unlikely, however, that "Tropilaelaps clareae" and "Varroa destructor" will become part of any other Christmas song...but you never know...
Golden bee (Cordovan) nectaring on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Varroa mites: Public Enemy No. 1. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mussen, who retired in June after 38 years of service, says "Neonics are only one of the classes of pesticide residues that we frequently find in analyses of adult bees, beeswax and stored pollens. We encounter CCD in colonies in which no neonicotinoid residues can be found, and we find colonies surviving year after year with measurable residues of neonicotinoids in the hives. Obviously, neonicotinoids do not appear to be ''the primary' cause of CCD."
Enter Matan Shelomi, a young, thoughtful and articulate entomologist who frequently answers questions on Quora. Huffington Post picked up his comments on Quora--What's the deal with the Bees?--about our bee-leagured bees. (Quora, launched by Harvard students, is a site where you can ask questions and get answers, and Shelomi answers plenty of them and quite well. A couple of years ago he tied for a first-place Shorty Award, the social media-equivalent of an Oscar.)
But first, more about Matan Shelomi. He's a Harvard graduate who received his doctorate in entomology this year from UC Davis, studying with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology. He is presently a postdoctoral researcher at the c in Jena, Germany. It's a two-year position funded by a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology. "My work is a continuation and expansion of my doctoral research at Davis: I am studying the endogenous cellulases and pectinases of the stick insects (Phasmatodea). By taking insect genes for these enzymes and expressing them in insect cell lines, we can quantitatively test the function of these genes and try to determine what role they play in the living insect and how they evolved."
Shelomi keyed in on those questions and more after hearing "a great talk by the venerable Dr. May Berenbaum, a wonderful entomologist and effectively the scientific spokesperson about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the technical term for the phenomenon of vanishing bees. So I present here for you the current state of knowledge on CCD: its history, its causes, and what we can do so stop it." Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois, is in line to be president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.
"CCD does not have one cause," Shelomi emphasized. "There is no one chemical to ban or one company to censure or one critter to eradicate. Instead, CCD is the product of several factors whose whole is deadlier than the sum of its parts: a perfect storm of biological and cultural issues that are too much for the already genetically weak honeybees to handle. However, honeybees and bees themselves are not going extinct anytime soon."
Shelomi noted that honey bees are not native to America. "European honey bees were imported to the United States a few centuries ago, where they adapted well to the local plants. Without bees, certain crops (most notably almonds) could not be produced."
"Beekeeping practice also changed remarkably in the past century. Beekeepers realized the market for pollination, and began to transport their hives around the country following the crop seasons, first by rail and then by truck. The demand for bees was higher than the supply, however. In the USA, the Almond Board successfully lobbied Congress to allow the importation of bees from Australia, which was illegal at the time to prevent the importation of foreign bee diseases. As the world changed and more wild land was converted to agricultural land, then agricultural land to urban land, the amount of food for bees decreased. The natural diet of bees is honey and bee bread, which is fermented pollen. Fewer wild flowers meant less natural food for the bees, requiring other sources. To keep their bees alive, beekeepers started feeding sugar solutions to bees, including high fructose corn syrup."
Then came CCD. "In 2006, many beekeepers across the USA began to report high losses of bees. Not deaths, but losses: the worker bees would just vanish, leaving the queen and brood behind. This is very unusual: honey bees don't leave their home and family behind like that. With the workers gone, the hive soon followed. It soon became evident that this was a nationwide problem, and one that eventually spread to Europe too. Because of the immense importance of bees in agriculture, groups from all over the US worked together, and solving the case of Colony Collapse Disorder became a priority."
In his Quora answer, Shelomi discusses research findings and new research underway. "Here is perhaps the biggest finding from the honey bee genome research: Honey bees are naturally lacking in immunity and detoxification genes. Compared to other insects, bees lack many natural defenses! Namely, they have fewer glutathione-S-transferases, carboxylesterases, and cytochrome P450's, which are the proteins animals (including humans) use to break down toxins. Bees eat pollen and honey, which are hardly toxic. In the millions of years of their evolution, they have lost many of these genes for defense, which means all honey bees are naturally weakened against diseases and chemicals."
So, bottom line? "I'll give you a hint: it's not one thing," Shelomi wrote. "No matter what you are reading, if you find any source that names only one cause for CCD -- a single chemical, a single pesticide, a single company, a single country-- then you should stop trusting that source. On anything. Ever. Science doesn't work that way, and, no, there is no one cause for CCD, nor is there one solution. Anyone who says otherwise is either pushing a certain viewpoint on you or hasn't done there research. Here's the big reveal."
When you get a chance, read his entire essay and take note of his summary: "...CCD happens because bees have a naturally poor immunity to disease and to chemicals, both of which they are exposed to at higher rates and often together, and that immunity is made worse due to poor diet and stressful conditions. There is no one cause, nor is there one solution."
What we can do to help the bees? "Two things. Plant flowers that bees like in your garden, if you have one. Help undo the damage of habitat loss by giving bees a source of food on your property. The second is to support your local beekeeper by buying local honey, if appropriate. Go to a farmers' market or otherwise get the honey from someone raising bees nearby. It will help them out, and you can ensure you are getting real honey and not laundered stuff."
Shelomi is spot on when he says that "the best thing you can do is stay informed... and that doesn't mean finding one source of information and trusting them blindly. To stay informed means you will always need new information, and are never satisfied. It means always doubting every new news story that pops up, especially if it seems too good to be true or claims to 'finally' answer a question. It means don't confuse a conspiracy theory website or an anti-agrotech blog, or even a news report, for actual scientific data. Nor should you trust one scientific paper above all others, especially if it's a single study and not a meta-analysis. Science is ever changing: look at how much our knowledge of bees changed since 2006, how many theories were tested, championed, then abandoned as new evidence came up. Even all I've posted here may one day change (though it's pretty well accepted so far). The story of the honey bees isn't over yet... but I promise it will not have a grand finale or a single climax, but rather will be complex and full of intertwining characters, and the ending, though perhaps not as spectacular, will be much more satisfying."
Excellent advice. Stay aware. Stay informed. Stay tuned.
Matan Shelomi, wearing a UC Davis entomology shirt, stands in front of the Reichstag in Berlin.
Noted entomologist May Berenbaum lectured May 20 at UC Davis on disappearing bees and then visited the Department of Entomology and Nematology's bee garden. With her (from left) are UC Davis bee authorities Robbin Thorp, Brian Johnson and Eric Mussen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Officials organizing the 42nd annual Almond Conference are gearing up for their three-day event, which takes place Tuesday, Dec. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 11 in the Sacramento Convention Center.
In a message to the attendees, Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California (ABC), says the industry is facing unprecedented challenges, as California's severe drought continues.
The agenda encompasses a variety of topics, including
- "State of the Industry"
- "Almond Quality: Everything You Want to Know About Retaining Almond Crunch and Flavor"
- "Pest Management Update and Sampling: Insects and Weeds"
- "Exporter Overview: Regulations Keep on Coming"
- "Digital and Traditional Media Outreach Techniques"
- "Pollination Update"
- "Research Grant Topics and Speakers"
Zalom and Williams will discuss their ABC-funded research while Mussen will address honey bee issues. In addition, Mussen will be honored at the Dec. 10 noon luncheon for his 38 years of service to the almond/bee industries. He retired in June.
Mussen will be among the four speakers at the Pollination Update on Thursday morning, Dec. 11. Others are Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland; Gabriele Ludwig, ABC; Christi Heintz of Project Apis m; and Gordon Wardell of Paramount Farming. Bob Curtis of ABC will moderate.
They will expand on this text (from the agenda): "Bees, along with other pollinators, have consistently been in the media, particularly in the past two years. Almonds, as the largest user of pollination services, are often mentioned as possibly impacted by compromised honey bee health. Are almond growers doing everything possible to ensure that almonds are a good and safe place for honey bees? This session will provide an overview of the research and issues affecting honey bee health, how ABC has and continues to be engaged in this issue and an introduction to the updated best management practices for honey bees in California almonds."
Researchers will discuss their ongoing projects:
- "Insect and Mite Research," Frank Zalom, UC Davis
- "Pheromone and Host Plant Volatiles for Navel Orangeworm Monitoring," Ring Cardé, UC Riverside
- "Host Plant Volatile Blend to Monitor Navel Orangeworm Populations," John Beck, USDA-ARS, Albany, CA
- "Integrated Pest Management Studies," Kris Tollerup, UC Cooperative Extension IPM advisor
- "Leaffooted and Stink Bugs in Almond," Andrea Joyce, UC Merced
- "Honey Bee Nutrition: ProteinSupplements vs. Natural Forage," Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, USDA-ARS, Tucson, Ariz.
- "Assessing the Value of Supplemental Forage During Almond Pollination, Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University
- "Forage and Integrated Almond Pollination," Neal Williams, UC Davis
- "Quantifying Varroa Resistance to Miticides," Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland
- "New Chemistries for Varroa Mite," Troy Anderson, Virginia Tech
See agenda (download PDF)
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An almond orchard in spring of 2013 in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)