Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
A honey bee apparently stung a 47-year-old father on his foot and he went into anaphylactic shock. Rushed to the hospital, he died 10 days later when his kidneys and heart failed. The article reported he was 6 feet, five inches tall, and weighed 17 stones, which is 238 pounds. (One stone equals 14 pounds).
His family indicated he was unaware of his allergic reaction to bee stings.
A sad and tragic case, indeed.
We know of people who have suffered severe allergic reactions and were raced to the hospital in time and fortunately survived. One was a Northern California parks employee who did not know he was allergic to bee stings.
How many people in the United States are allergic to honey bee stings? Approximately one or two out of every 1000 people, says Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "The severity of the response, to even a single sting, varies considerably from person to person."
Immediate injections with epinephrine will usually delay the possibility someone unable to breathe. Then a quick trip to a hospital where medical personnel can administrate antihistamines, steroids "and likely more epinephrine" are in order.
"While honey bees away from their hives normally do not pose too much of a sting threat, if the bees are intoxicated by exposure to certain pesticides, they can become an abnormal sting threat at distances quite a ways from the hives. Additionally, individuals who fear a sting, with good reason, sometimes are more apt to try to shoo the bee away. If a bee already is close to stinging, the additional movement of the 'shooer,' or if there is contact with the bee, results in a much greater likelihood of a sting."
Another piece of good advice that Mussen offers: "Individuals who do not appreciate attention by bees should do everything they can to not smell good to a bee. The use of flower-scented or bee products-scented soaps, shampoos, perfumes, or colognes should be avoided. There is no documented scientific study that suggests that honey bees can detect the odor of fear in humans. But if we watch from a distance, the physical reactions of fearful people often tend to be more likely to cause stings than the behavior of the rest of us."
Photographers who capture images of worker bees foraging in flowers are often asked if they've ever been stung. After all, they're just inches away from them. The usual answer: No. The bees are too busy gathering nectar and pollen for their colonies. Stings can and do occur when the worker bees are defending their hives. Or when you accidentally step on one.
Read Mussen's information on bee and wasp stings on the UC Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) website.
This honey bee, in the process of defending her hive, is stinging Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis. That's her abdominal tissue being pulled out. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of two stings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Go native" with native bees, that is.
A bee condo is a block of wood drilled with specially sized holes for nesting sites. Bees lay their eggs, provision the nests, and then plug the holes. Months later, the offspring will emerge.
In our backyard, we provide bee condos for BOBs (short for blue orchard bee) and leafcutter bees.
In the summer it's fun watching the leafcutter bees snip leaves from our shrubbery and carry them back to their bee condo. It's easy to tell the nesting sites apart: BOB holes are larger and plugged with mud, while the leafcutter bee holes are smaller and plugged with leaves.
Osmia lignaria, a native species of North America, is sold commercially for use in orchard crop pollination.
If you want to learn how to build them or where to buy them, Thorp has kindly provided a list of native bee nesting site resources on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility website. You can also purchase them at many beekeeping supply stores. (Also check out the Xerces Society's website information.)
Better yet, if you'd like to learn more about native bees and their needs, be sure to register online for the Pollinator Gardening Workshop on Saturday, March 15 on the UC Davis campus. Hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, it begins at 7:30 a.m. in Room 1001 of Giedt Hall and ends at 2 p.m. with a plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. For the small fee of $40 you'll receive a continental breakfast and box lunch and return home with an unbee-lievable wealth of knowledge. Speakers will include several honey bee and native bee experts: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp; pollination ecologist Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. See the complete list on the website.
You'll be hearing from Robbin, Neal and Eric, but you'll be thinking about BOB.
Leafcutting bees heading home to their condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shows Danielle Wishon of the California Department of Food and Agriculture a bee condo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Blue orchard bees on display at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of bee nesting sites shown March 2 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When a honey bee stings you, she makes the supreme sacrifice and dies. She's usually defending her colony. In the process, she leaves behind part of her abdomen. A beekeeper simply scrapes the sting with a fingernail or a hive tool to stop the pulsating venom and continues working.
But is it ever possible for a bee to "unscrew the sting?"
A beginning beekeeper asked Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, that very question last week.
She prefaced her question this way: "Richard Dawkins wrote in his biography that he observed a bee working her stinger out of his hand--unscrewing, so to speak--thereby not losing her stinger or her life. Is this true? I'm just a beginning beekeeper but have read many books on the subject and have never come across this interesting bit of information."
Mussen has been asked thousands of questions about bees since he joined the UC Davis faculty in 1976. Bee stings are just one of the topics. Like all beekeepers, he's been stung many times. It's no big deal. However, one documented bee sting (below) turned out to be rather a big deal. It went viral. (It went from winning a feature photo contest sponsored by the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE), an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists, to being named the Huffington Post's "Most Amazing Photos of 2012"; one of the Sacramento Bee's top 10 news stories of 2012; and My Science Academy's top photos of the year. Along the way, scores of websites named it "Picture of the Day." It also will appear in a number of books.)
The photo (taken by yours truly) shows Mussen being stung by a bee in the apiary of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. At the time, we were walking through the apiary when he noticed a bee loudly buzzing around him. "Get your camera ready, Kathy," he said. "The bee's going to sting me."
That's exactly what the bee did. If you look closely, you can see the abdominal tissue, aka "guts," as she's trying to pull away. Usually a bee sting is a clean break.
So, can a bee "unscrew the sting?"
"As you may know, the sting of an adult worker honey bee has backward-pointing barbs that tend to hold the bee sting in the victim's flesh," Mussen told the beekeeper. "However, how well the sting stays stuck depends upon how deeply it was pushed in. Yes, some bees seem to make only a half-hearted effort to sting. The point of the sting pierces the skin, but doesn't go in very deeply. At that point, the sting can be pulled out if the bee begins to leave. It goes back up, inside the bee, but I do not know if, or how much, damage was done to the bee."
"These half-hearted stings are more commonly encountered with quite young workers. Sometimes the sting remains, but no venom is felt. Sometimes, a slight tinge of venom is momentarily noticed, then it is gone. So, while most stings are the full-blown, driven-pretty-deep-into-the-flesh type, there are less assertive attempts that result in intermediate sting results. The sting cannot be 'unscrewed,' because the barbs on the sting are directly across from each other and not in a spiral. However, the barbs are larger as the sting penetrates deeper."/span>
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen getting stung on the wrist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Associated Press reporter Gillian Flaccus wrote that a man illegally keeping bees on the roof of his West Los Angeles home may not have to worry any more since the City Council voted Wednesday, Feb. 12 to allow backyard beekeepers to keep bees.
That's good news for our urban beekeepers.
What troubles some folks, though--and rightfully so--is that the council agreed that when at all possible, feral bee colonies should be hived instead of destroyed.
Los Angeles has been the home of Africanized bees since the mid-1990s and some of those feral cololnies are indeed Africanized. They look the same, but their behavior isn't. Africanized honey bees, which the media has dubbed "killer bees," are much more aggressive than our European honey bees, established here in California in1853.
Flaccus also quoted beekeeper Ruth Askren, who relocates feral hives to backyards all over the city, as estimating that only 10 percent or fewer of the colonies she collects are so aggressive they must be destroyed.
"Currently, most hives discovered in the city's public right of ways or reported by concerned citizens," Flaccus wrote, "are wiped out because of worries about their aggressive genetics."
Mussen, who just received a grant with UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson to research Africanized bees in California, is following the story closely. He pointed out that Africanized bees were first detected in California in 1994, just outside Blyte in Riverside County.
Fact is, not all bees (especially highly aggressive Africanized bees) are worth saving.
Mussen wrote in one of his Bee Briefs, posted on his website: "While it does appear that over the decades the Africanized honey bees in southern California have lost some of their overly defensive behavior, they still are not predictable. At times a colony population is no more apt to become disturbed and defensive than our normally kept EHBs (European honey bees). At other times they respond quickly to minimal disturbance and defend a very large territory around the hive location. Such behavior is not restricted solely to AHB (Africanized Honey Bees), however colonies of EHBs demonstrating such intensive defensive behavior usually are 'requeened' or killed by beekeepers. Requeening is a process by which the original queen in the colony is located and removed.
"Then, a young queen, mated outside the range of AHB drones, is introduced into the colony. Over a period of four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and are replaced by daughters of the new queen. Defensive behavior becomes less intense as population replacement rogresses. Individuals and organizations in southern California are advocating collecting honey bee swarms and extracting colonies from buildings, etc., hiving them, and keeping them in backyards. The probability of hiving an AHB colony is relatively high."
Meanwhile, Mussen is fielding calls from news media, beekeepers and agencies.
One person wanted to know if Mussen's views are science-based. "No," Mussen said, "it's common sense."
Mussen offers two suggestions:
1. Beekeepers needing bees should order packages from an area outside AHB colonization, such as Northern California. Be careful about ordering from queen bee breeders in Texas, "as the state is covered with Africanized honey bees."
2. If feral bees are collected and hived, move the hive to a location where there will not be interactions with people and domestic animals. Allow the bees to fill the box and then conduct an inspection. It will take only a couple minutes to determine if the bees simply mind their own business or would likely cause problems for adjacent neighbors.
Mussen also warns that the new ordinance will be yanked if problems mount. If neighbors start complaining about swarms, or bees stinging people and pets en masse, or about scores of bees seeking water elsewhere (beekeepers need to provide for their colonies), that could happen.
Then, he says, beekeepers will have no one to blame but themselves.
This is a feral honey bee colony in a backyard in Vacaville, Solano County. Containing European honey bees, it was a joy to the resident before it collapsed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is the time of year when scores of prospective beekeepers contact Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for advice on beginning beekeeping.
Many want to keep a hive or two in their backyards but don't know where to start.
It's not as simple as purchasing a queen bee off the Internet. You have to buy packaged bees or collect a swarm to start a colony.
"If you haven't started (beginning beekeeping) yet, purchasing a honey bee queen won't do it," Mussen advised a Northern California woman today. "You need 2-3 pounds (6-9,000 bees) of worker bees to get things going. So, the new beekeeper usually either buys 'packaged bees' or collects a swarm."
"Individual queens are purchased to replace queens in colonies that already are going, or to add to frames of bees and brood--not including the old queen--that are removed from a strong colony, later in the season. That is called 'splitting' or 'dividing' the colony to get a total of two.
Mussen, who joined UC Davis in 1976 and will be retiring in June, always advises newcomers to join a local beekeeping association and read magazines and books.
"As for textbooks, it depends on how the bees are going to be kept. In what I refer to as 'normal' Langstroth hives, the book Beekeeping for Dummies is relatively good," Mussen told her. "If the bees are headed for a top-bar hive, then Les Crowder's book on that subject is reasonably priced. Smaller 'backyard' texts have recently been published by UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary (Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees); Bee Culture magazine editor Kim Flottum (The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden), and University of Florida emeritus professor Malcolm Sanford, who is the co-author with Richard E Bonney of Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health.
Mussen also pointed out that a newly revised rendition of the beekeeping bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee will soon replace the 1992 edition. "It is one of the most comprehensive texts out there," he said.
What about keeping bees along a busy street?
"Having a busy thoroughfare over your back fence will be problematic only if most of the bee-attractive water and flowers producing nectar and pollen are on the other side of the road," Mussen noted. "Then a bunch of the bees will become hood ornaments or windshield smudges. Be sure to have a good bee-watering set-up in place before the bees are moved in."
Prospective beekeepers also need to contact their local Cooperative Extension office for rules and regulations.
One very enduring part of being a first-year beekeeper: "The first year should be the smoothest," he said. "After that, pests and diseases become a concern."
Musssen writes a bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Davis apiaries, which can be downloaded free from his website. He also writes the periodic Bee Briefs and one includes Getting Started in Beekeeping.
This photo of beekeeper Billy Synk, manager and staff research associate of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, appears on the cover of the February edition of the American Bee Journal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)