Allen-Diaz promises to wear bees to raise scholarship dollars for UC students

Oct 14, 2013

Barbara Allen-Diaz, a top administrator in the University of California, has vowed to create a big buzz — a big buzz with bees — if she can raise $2500 by Oct. 31 for UC’s “Promise for Education” campaign, aimed at providing scholarships for UC students in need of financial help.

Allen-Diaz, vice president for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), has agreed to participate in a stunt with thousands of buzzing honey bees clustered on either a UC ANR T-shirt or on a UC ANR banner in a project coordinated by the world-renowned bee wrangler Norm Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology.

Allen-Diaz holds several other titles: director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, director of Cooperative Extension, and professor and Russell Rustici Chair in Rangeland Management at UC Berkeley. But next spring, she will become “The Bee Lady” or “The Bee-liever,” surrounded by thousands of buzzing honey bees.

And, if the UC ANR administrator raises $5,000, she’s promised to eat insect larvae to promote awareness of alternative protein sources. (To donate, see

Allen-Diaz has never intentionally been near a cluster of bees. “I have to say that most of the bee interactions that I’ve had in the past have been stepping on them barefoot on the lawn as a child in Edmonds, Wash.; jumping off a rock wall into a bee hive as a child – 11 stings on my neck and face; and trying to control meat-eating wasps (protecting her families’ hands, faces and legs) at our Oregon home,” she said.

“That said, I am a true believer in the importance of honey bees and the importance of bees as pollinators in our agricultural and wild ecosystems,” Allen-Diaz said. “The health of agriculture and the health of the planet depend on the health and survival of our honey bees. I am very much looking forward to meeting Norm Gary and will participate with fascination as he ‘wrangles’ these bees. I hope they like me as much as Norm! And I hope that I am able to raise some dollars to support undergraduate education at UC.

Norm Gary said he will set up the project sometime in the spring, when the weather warms and the bees begin their annual population build-up.

Gary, who turns 80 in November, retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career. He also retired this year as a bee wrangler and as a 66-year beekeeper, but “I’m coming out of retirement to help with this cause,” he said.

“Bees are not inclined to sting if they are well-fed, happy and content and are ‘under the influence’ of powerful synthetic queen bee odors — pheromones — which tend to pacify them,” Gary said.

While at UC Davis, he formulated a pheromone solution that is very effective in controlling bee behavior. Bees, attracted to pheromones, cluster on the drops of pheromones, whether it be a sign, a t-shirt or a plastic flower.

“Bees wrangled by this procedure have no inclination to sting,” he said. “Stinging behavior occurs naturally near the hive in defense of the entire colony not for the defense of the individual bee, because bees that sting die within hours.  Using this approach I have had as many as a million bees clustered on six people simultaneously.”

“Most people fear bees,” Gary acknowledged. “They think bees ‘want’ to sting them. Wrong!  They sting only when the nest or colony is attacked or disturbed or when they are trapped in a physical situation where they are crushed.”

Over the last four decades, Gary has trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. Among his credits are 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes.” “My Girl,” “The X Files,” “Terror Out of the Sky,” “Invasion of the Bee Girls” and “Candyman” and the sequels. He appeared on more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno late night shows. He starred as the first guest on the TV show “That’s Incredible” and returned for four additional shows.

Gary holds a Guinness Book of World Records for most bees (109) in his mouth; he trained the bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar.  He kept the bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds.

The retired bee scientist is the author of the popular book, “Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees,” now in its second printing. During his academic career, he published more 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and four book chapters.

Gary, who received his doctorate in apiculture from Cornell University in 1959, is known internationally for his bee research. He was the first to document reproductive behavior of honey bees on film and the first to discover queen bee sex attractant pheromones. He invented a magnetic retrieval capture/recapture system for studying the foraging activities of bees, documenting the distribution and flight range in the field. His other studies revolved around honey bee pollination of agricultural crops, stinging and defensive behavior, and the effects of pesticides on foraging activities, among dozens of others.

A professional jazz and Dixieland musician, Gary is also known for playing the “B-Flat clarinet” while covered from head to toe with bees. He continues to play professionally in the Sacramento area—minus the bees.

“I’m looking forward to the big buzz next spring,” he said. “I promise it will be un-bee-lievable.”

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By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist