A Texas beekeeper has been heralded a “Bee Whisperer" after a video of her scooping up handfuls of bees to move them to a safer place has been watched by millions online.
Erika Thompson, a professional beekeeper, was called into a property that had beehives under the floorboards of a backyard shed that had been there for at least 2 years. According to Thompson in her video, the landlord wanted to call in the exterminators – but the family renting the property wanted to save the bees, so they contacted her.
Thompson founded Texas Beeworks, a beekeeping company in Austin aiming to preserve and protect bees by offering live removals that can move a hive without damaging the bees or using harmful chemicals.
As you can see in the video, the hive in question was so big that Thompson had to remove two sections of the floor to get to all of it. What seems to have sent viewers wild, however, is her casually reaching in to pick up parts of the hive – and even handfuls of bees – and place them in another purpose-built hive with her bare hands.
Thompson's video, which has been viewed more than 58 million times on TikTok, manages to combine a zenlike calm with carrying out an activity that will have anyone with melissophobia screaming into a pillow.
Without any protective gear, Thompson calmly starts placing the combs into the new hive and then placing the bees themselves by the new hive, where they "marched right in". Bees from the old hive then start following their colony mates to their new home. To aid this, Thompson kept a lookout for the queen, eventually spotting her and scooping her up in a queen clip, a very effective mini jail, to keep her safe.
"Once the queen was in the new hive, some bees began sending signals to help the other bees find their way home," she says in a voiceover of the video. "I left the hive overnight and by the next day the entire colony was in their new home, and it was another great day of saving the bees."
So, what is happening? Is Thompson a modern-day Dr Dolittle, or is this mystical way of the bee some kind of magic?
Luckily, Thompson made a longer video explaining her methods.
First, she uses puffs of smoke to mask the alarm pheromones bees use to communicate. When under distress, bees emit the pheromones isopentyl acetate and 2-heptanone. This stimulates an alarm response in other bees, which in turn will emit the pheromones. To subdue bees, the smoke interferes with the bees' sense of smell. It reduces the electroantennographic response of the antennae, but doesn't harm the bees. Their antennae resume normal responses after about 10-20 minutes.
This allows beekeepers time to move parts of the original hive without the bees seeing it as a threat to the colony or queen.
"My goal is always to give the bees as many pieces from their original hive as possible, and I try to put the pieces in the new hive in the same order that the bees built them," Thompson says in the video.
The rubber bands hold the pieces of comb in place until the bees have produced enough beeswax to attach the pieces of their old hive to the frame of their new hive. Once the hive is attached to the new frame, the bees will drag the rubber bands holding them in place out of the hive, since "the bees like to keep their hive nice and tidy."
And why no gear? Thompson told the Austin Chronicle last year, after another video went viral, that "I suit up when I need to", but a full beekeeper outfit in the Texas heat is cumbersome. Plus, "As a bug lover, I just love holding bees. This is what I should be doing on this planet, and when you find that purpose, there's a natural calming effect."
Multiple rescue videos on her Texas Beeworks TikTok page have had millions of views. Thompson hopes that her showing how calmly hives can be relocated will encourage people to call beekeepers, not exterminators, for any bee-related issues they may have.