Jun 13, 2022
UC apiculturist Eric Mussen mourned
Celebrated honey bee authority Eric Carnes Mussen, an internationally known 38-year California Cooperative Extension apiculturist and an invaluable member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, died Friday, June 3, from liver cancer. He was 78.
Mussen, a resident of Davis, was admitted to a local hospital on May 25. He was diagnosed with liver cancer/failure on May 31 and returned to the family home June 1 for hospice care. He passed away the evening of June 3.
“Eric was a giant in the field of apiculture,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “The impact of his work stretched far beyond California.”
Mussen, known to all as “Eric,” joined the UC Davis entomology department in 1976. Although he retired in 2014, he continued his many activities until a few weeks prior to his death. For nearly four decades, he drew praise as “the honey bee guru,” “the pulse of the bee industry” and as “the go-to person” when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media sought answers about honey bees.
“Eric’s passing is a huge loss,” said longtime colleague Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. “He was always the go-to person for all things honey bee. He worked happily with hobbyists, commercial beekeepers and anyone just generally interested.”
Colleagues described Mussen as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide,” “a treasure to the beekeeping industry,” and “a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees.”
Born May 12, 1944, in Schenectady, New York, Mussen received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts (after declining an offer to play football at Harvard) and then obtained his master’s degree and doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota in 1969 and 1975, respectively. Mussen 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.
Bees became his life, and Mussen thoroughly enjoyed his career. For nearly four decades, Mussen wrote and published the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and short, topical articles called Bee Briefs, providing beekeepers with practical information on all aspects of beekeeping. His research focused on managing honey bees and wild bees for maximum field production, while minimizing pesticide damage to pollinator populations.
During his tenure as the state’s Extension apiculturist, Mussen traveled to beekeeping clubs throughout California, addressing some 20 beekeeping organizations a year. For 10 years, he also conducted the California State 4-H Bee Essay Contest, disseminating guidelines, collecting entries and chairing the judging.
Highly honored by his peers, Mussen received the 2006 California Beekeeper of the Year award; the American Association of Professional Apiculturists’ 2007 Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture; the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America; the 2010 statewide Pedro Ilic Outstanding Agricultural Educator; and was a member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the 2013 team award from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
Among his scores of awards: the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the 2013 Alexander Hodson Graduate Alumni Award from his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.
A celebration of life is expected to take place at UC Davis.
– Kathy Keatley Garvey, UCANR; Photo at top: Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist, at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. This image is from 2010. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey.