For Erika Thompson, it was "just another Tuesday," but for the millions of people watching her work, it was a jaw-dropping (and terrifying) feat of insect-whispering magic.
A viral video shows Thompson, a professional beekeeper and the founder and owner of Austin-based Texas Beeworks, moving an enormous hive from the floorboards of someone's shed to a wooden hive. Her job is to move beehives from where they shouldn't be to where they should be, but seeing her do it with no special safety gear is impressive, if not alarming.
I mean, this combo of skill and fearlessness is something you just have to witness:
"This wasn't an extraordinary removal or an atypical one by any means," Thompson told the BBC. "Bees are often looking for a new place to build a hive, and these backyard sheds give them a really good environment where they're protected from the elements."
At the beginning of the video, we can see Thompson using a smoker to keep the bees calm. When a bee senses danger, it will emit an alarm pheromone that other bees pick up, which can quickly send them all into a panicked, stinging frenzy. Smoke temporarily interferes with bees' sense of smell so they can't detect those alarm pheromones, thereby keeping them calm.
That calm state allows Thompson to pull up the floorboards covered with bees and transfer the combs into the wooden hive. What's remarkable, however, is how she handles the bees barehanded, scooping them up like she's scooping up a thick liquid and then gently shaking them off at their new home.
In her TikTok videos, she's explained that she does wear protective equipment if bees are agitated. But when they are docile like this, the gear makes the work of moving the bees more cumbersome and increases the chance of them becoming alarmed. As long as she remains calm and intentional with her movements, the bees don't seem to mind.
And how about that "queen clip"? Thompson told the BBC that clips like that trap the queen bee during the move while still allowing the worker bees to take care of her. The bee colony will follow the queen's scent, so it's important to make sure she stays put in the new hive.
Thompson told BBC that what we see in the video is simply what she does on a regular basis. "One of the most incredible things about seeing the reaction to my videos has been just everybody's shock and awe at what is really just a normal Tuesday for me."
Honey bees are a vital part of our ecosystem, so calling a beekeeper like Thompson is a far better way to get rid of a bee problem than calling an exterminator. We all rely on bees to pollinate crops—without them, we'd have a much harder time eating. Many people found the video terrifying, as most of us have been stung at some point in our lives and the traumatic memories are real. But Thompson is doing us all a great service with this work. It's clear from seeing her in action that she truly cares about these creatures.
@texasbeeworks How honeybees survive the cold ##bees ##beekeeper ##natureismetal ##learnontiktok
♬ original sound - Erika Thompson
The Texas Beeworks TikTok videos have millions of views each, as people marvel at Thompson's ability to handle bees in ways that most of us would consider nightmare scenarios. But changing people's view of bees is a big part of why Thompson shares her work this way.
"Species of all types of bees and insects are incredibly important to the diversity of our ecosystem and to our food system," she told the BBC. "I hope that by showing people the incredible world of honey bees, that hopefully, they can learn something about them and maybe have a new understanding and respect for them."
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