All About Honey Bees
To commemorate National Honey Bee Day, Jefferson Exchange host Geoffrey Riley of Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon University, recently booked a trio of experts to talk about honey bees.
The broadcast, aired Aug. 15, included an interview of Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
If you want to gain an overall perspective of what's going on in the bee industry, then you need to listen to the broadcast.
In the interview, Mussen relates:
- The United States presently has some 2.5 million colonies of honey bees, kept mostly by commercial beekeepers
- One third of our daily diet is pollinated by honey bees
- California has one-fifth of the nation's bees, "but most of the apiculturists who do bee studies--they're east of the Rockies"
- The difference between the term "hive" and "colony" is this: A hive is the container where bees live--it could be a hollow tree, a barbecue grill, or in an apiary. A "colony" is comprised of live bees and the brood, including the eggs, larva and pupa.
- Right after World War II, the number of bee colonies in the United States totaled about 5 million. Today, the number of colonies "is half that." One of the reasons is the decreasing number of small farms, traditionally known to keep hives. Another reason: the introduction of the tracheal mite and the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) into the United States in the 1980s.
Between parasites, diseases, malnutrition, stress and pesticides, "The bees are just having a horrible time getting their act together and surviving through all that," Mussen told Riley.
The mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD), characterized by adult bees abandoning their hive, leaving behind the queen, the brood and the food stores, is also puzzling, Mussen said. He attributed CCD to multiple factors, but one thing is for sure: "Something is hurting the immune system."
As for pesticides, "the bees are swimming in a sea of chemicals," Mussen declared.
Following the interview, a listener emailed Mussen: "I heard you on the Jefferson Exchange the other day. I have studied honey bees for a long time, and you have the most comprehensive grasp of their biology, behavior, health--and their economic and historical relationship to people--that I have seen."
That is the ultimate compliment.
Mussen, a noted authority on honey bees, joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1976. He plans to retire in 2014, and already the bee industry is moaning the loss of his expertise.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen talks to a tour group at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Exension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a past president of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), speaks at a recent WAS conference in Healdsburg, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)