Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
He’s been beekeeping and playing the clarinet for 69 years.
Meet Norman Gary, a UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology who retired in 1994 after a 32-year academic career. As an apiculturist and researcher, he authored scores of peer-reviewed publications, and most recently wrote a how-to-book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees.
Gary, now 83 and a resident of Citrus Heights, doesn’t keep bees anymore. “I had to give up hobby beekeeping in 2015,” he said, “because the equipment is too heavy for me to lift.”
Now he feeds wild bees in his yard like some folks do wild birds. And he feeds the birds, too. “They share feeders with no problem,” he told us. “Been this way for a million years or more!”
Determined to help bees thrive and survive, Gary feeds them with his patented artificial nectar. “I make it with ordinary table sugar … about half sugar and half water. 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.”
Often the first question that non-beekeepers ask him is “How often have you been stung?” Answer: More than 7500 times. “Do bee stings hurt?” Answer: “Bee stings do hurt. A sting for me is not the same as a sting for others because I scratch the stinger out before it has time to deliver the venom by its pumping action.”
During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades, Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. Among his credits: 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. Mainly for educational purposes but also for entertainment, he launched the highly sophisticated Thriller Bee Shows, performing more than 100 times in three western states, with venues that included the California State Fair. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while “Buzzin’ with his Bee-Flat Clarinet.”
Gary once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. His holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt.
He’s also the guy behind the “bee suit” record in the Guinness World Records; Gary clustered more than 87 pounds of bees on a friend.
Today, as a musician, he plays the clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute. Most of his performances are at senior homes and private parties. He directs and performs with Four for Fun, Mellow Fellas Duo, and the Calamity Jazz Band. Senior favorites include “Bill Bailey,” “Bourbon Street Parade,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” “Georgia” and “Just a Little While To Stay Here.”
Meanwhile, Norm Gary is loving his post-retirement music career, just as he loves bees. And yes, he still has CDs of his Beez Kneez Dixieland band that he retired several years ago. In addition, Gary provides the sound system for what is billed as “the world’s only all women banjo band, GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS,” directed by his wife.
It’s all music to his ears—and so are the bees.