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Why internet backlash could cost the TikTok Texas bee queen her crown

Why internet backlash could cost the TikTok Texas bee queen her crown

June 4, 2021
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The beekeeping community is making itself heard online. Getty Images / NurPhoto Forgive me for saying it, but the online beekeeping community has this week gotten a lot of buzz. Despite hitting over 6 million followers on video-sharing app TikTok, influencer Erika Thompson — best known as @texasbeeworks — […]

Click here to view original web page at www.cnet.com


The beekeeping community is making itself heard online.

gettyimages-1210888528
Getty Images / NurPhoto

Forgive me for saying it, but the online beekeeping community has this week gotten a lot of buzz.

Despite hitting over 6 million followers on video-sharing app TikTok, influencer Erika Thompson -- best known as @texasbeeworks -- has gotten herself in hot water by publicizing practices that fellow beekeepers allege are not only dangerous, but against the conservation message she herself spreads.

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Both Thompson and Texas Beeworks have made their home on TikTok, with a central message of hives before honey. According to the Beeswork website, "We focus on the health and wellness of the hive, and we manage every Texas Beeworks colony with the mission of maintaining a healthy honeybee population."

Thompson's great success on TikTok centers on the fact that she is calm and incredibly casual among the bees, scooping them up in her bare hands with little to no protective equipment. While an experienced professional may have the knowledge and understanding to do this, it sends a dangerous message to amateur beekeepers and the general population.

The above video has since been viewed over 16.8 million times, with 3.3 million likes on TikTok. But when shared to Twitter, the situation became a little more volatile. Accounts started challenging the bee queen's methods, alleging that it's full of misinformation.

I think there were a few parts edited out of this. She "just happened" to have a hive-less queen AND brought it with her, this despite not knowing if the swarm had a queen already and queen-less swarms being "unusual." Still, cool video.

— Green Ink Brigade (@GreenInkBrigade) June 2, 2021

What a crock. If that wasn't their queen the bees would be "rushing" to kill her, and it takes DAYS for them to chew through the candy and release her; that is the point of it, by the time they do they are used to her pheromones and accept her. That was the original queen.

— Mo0gster (@Mo0gster) June 1, 2021

Y’all the Texas Bee lady is a fraud, when she “rescues” swarms, the bees are incredibly docile because they’re domesticated (ie someone else’s honeybees) and she oversmokes them. She then puts them on her property and profits off of them like livestock.

— abbie-ham lincoln park (@abbiesm2001) June 3, 2021

The critique comes just days after fellow TikTok beekeeper @lahoneybeerescue pointed out concerns with Thompson's videos, referencing her attire (black and dark blue clothes, which are known to antagonize bees) and her editing methods (cutting out crucial safety practices like checking if a swarm is defensive or docile before approaching) are encouraging potentially life-threatening practices in her viewers.

The owner of @lahoneybeerescue has since posted about how wildly the videos have gone viral, expressing that their intention was never to get this big.

Since the original post, the account was taken down by TikTok -- allegedly as a result of Texas Beeswork fans reporting the account to TikTok for bullying. The account has since been allowed back up, but there's still a hefty amount of backlash within the comment sections of their videos.

Walk, walk, fashion baby

So given the uproar, let's fact-check a couple of the claims.

First is the concern of Thompson's attire.

Thompson frequently posts TikToks where she's wearing all black denim, or darker clothes as she handles bees. You might be thinking, "is fashion really that important?" Well, it turns out yes -- there's a reason that most beekeepers wear predominantly white protective gear.

Bee vision differs significantly from human vision. Like many other insects, bees can see from approximately 300 to 650 nanometers of the electromagnetic spectrum. How does that compare to humans? Well, it means they can see the ultraviolet spectrum, but they can't see the color red. It does mean, however, that they are very good at perceiving the difference between dark and light.

While bees have naturally evolved to be attracted to the bright colors of flowers, they conversely perceive darker colors as threatening, associating them with their usual predators of bears and skunks. As a result, a bee faced with a human wearing dark clothes may be put in a defensive position and strike out against the perceived predator.

Beekeepers traditionally use all-white protective gear because the lack of color renders the bees almost indifferent to their approach, enabling them to conduct their business more safely.

In addition to the choice of color, it's highly recommended that bee removalists have either short hair or tie their hair back, lest a bee get stuck in the strands and panic, leading to a sting.

"And it was another great day saving the bees"

The other central concern is that Thompson is staging her rescues. And yes, content creators stage videos all the time, so it's fair to wonder why this one should matter. The problem, however, lies in the fact that bee conservation is such an important and hot button issue -- and removal can be incredibly dangerous if not performed properly.

While Thompson ends each video asserting that she's "saved the bees" that day, what she's actually doing may not be making much of a difference at all. Across the platform, Thompson has been accused of sedating the bees before filming, rendering it easier to handle them and stage swarm removals. It's also alleged that the bees she's removing are domesticated, as opposed to more aggressive swarms. While sedation shouldn't harm the bees too much, relocating swarms to Thompson's own apiary doesn't make a huge difference either.

Additionally, according to Australian bee expert Kit Prendergast, "The honeybees she 'saves' are in fact feral honeybees -- these are invasive species and not in need of any sort of conservation measures ... in most countries, including the US and Australia, [honeybees] are an invasive species and are threatening indigenous wild bee populations."

Prendergast also reiterated: "Even professional honeybee removalists should wear the correct PPE and her blatant disregard of safety measures is extremely unprofessional."

Why should we care?

The bottom line for this issue is that while Thompson's videos are definitely entertaining, the viral nature of her page means that she has influence over almost 6 million people who could see her activities and opt to put themselves at risk instead of calling the professionals.

In almost all cases, if you have a bee swarm somewhere it shouldn't be, the best thing you can do (for your safety and theirs) is to reach out to a qualified bee removalist -- not an exterminator -- who can rehome the bees safely.

Doing it yourself -- especially following the methods Thompson employs, without the proper gear and education to do so -- can result in harm to both you and the bees, so unless you're trained it's best to leave it, well... be.

CNET reached out to Thompson and Texas Beeworks for comment but has not yet received a response.

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