Bee-ing There and Bee-Lieving in the Bees

Apr 28, 2014

Just call it a "practice run." Or a "buzz run."

Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) vowed last year to wear bees if she received at least $2500 in donations for UC student scholarships through the "Promise for Education" fundraising drive.

She did and she will. Wear honey bees that is. This week. Bee-lieve it.

Allen-Diaz chose her project to highlight the importance of pollinators to the health of agriculture and the planet.

Professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology and retired bee research scientist at UC Davis, will train bees to buzz into her open hands to sip nectar.

The event, dubbed "Operation Pollination," also will be his last professional bee stunt. "This is absolutely my last performance as a professional bee wrangler," said Gary,  considered the world's best bee wrangler.  "The remainder of my retirement years will be devoted to music, not bees."

Photos and/or video from the event are scheduled be posted on social media sometime Thursday, May 1.

So last week, the "B" Team did a buzz run. The "B" Team, led by Gary, included Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, yours truly and three members of UC ANR:

  • Pam Kan-Rice, assistant director, News and Information Outreach ‚Ä®Communication Services and Information Technology
  • Ray Lucas, senior producer/director, Digital Media, and
  • Evett Kilmartin, digital media librarian.

We all watched as Gary applied his patented artificial nectar to the  Kan-Rice's outstretched hands. His "girls" lapped up the nectar and sought more.

Was Kan-Rice a little apprehensive? Not at all. A former ag reporter based in Fresno, she felt quite comfortable around them, as Gary assured her she would.  "They felt fuzzy, wuzzy and warm," she said, adding matter-of-factly: "I've never been stung by a bee."

The artificial nectar? "I make it with ordinary table sugar … about half sugar and half water," Gary said. "Then I add one tiny drop for flavoring, such as anise, that provides a fragrance that attracts bees.  Almost any flavor will work fine … peppermint, lavender, etc.  My artificial nectar is as good, maybe better, than natural nectar.  At least the bees respond 100 percent!  People don't realize that table sugar (sucrose) is perhaps the purest natural product on the market.  It is identical to the sucrose found in natural nectar."

Gary retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career.  He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed research publications and most recently wrote a book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees.

During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades,  Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits include 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.

He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar.  He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."

So, come Thursday, the social insects in the hands of Barbara Allen-Diaz will be on the social media.

Meanwhile, Gary and Mussen are offering her advice, suggesting she wear pastel colors and no perfume.

"Foraging bees do not react defensively to color whatsoever," Gary said. "Beekeepers wear white because bees can be defensive during hive manipulations and tend to react to darker colors...bees away from the hive during foraging and pollination normally do not sting unless physically molested, such as picking them up.  Most stings are from yellow jackets and wasps but lay people think they have been stung by a bee."

Said Mussen: '"The few 'trained' bees that Norm will be using won't even be around a hive.  Their likelihood of stinging anything or anyone is as close to zero as it can get, as long as we 'beehave.'  No jerky movements.  No swatting at bees around the face; no blowing the bees away from your face."

After Gary's last bee wrangling stunt, he will be totally focused on his music. He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute. 

"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue.  Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend.  We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc.  We play swing-music style, too. " 

Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor.  "We'll perform for the Monterey Jazz Society on May 18.  Our bass sax and trumpet players are extremely talented ladies who live in Eugene, Ore.  Our banjo/guitarist/vocalist lives in Sonoma.  I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals.  And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."

That would be the "B" flat clarinet.