A TikToker has gone viral for accusing a beekeeping influencer of misleading viewers about how she handles bees and for promoting bad practices when handling a hive.
TikTok user @LAHoneyBeeRescue claims that Erika Thompson, who goes by @TexasBeeWorks on TikTok and has 6 million followers, is improperly handling bees in her videos and setting a dangerous precedent for viewers.
"What she's doing, going and opening hives with her hair down, wearing dark clothes with exposed skin, is dangerous," @LAHoneyBeeRescue says in the video, which was posted to Twitter and has been viewed more than a million times.
Thompson, who has been profiled in The Washington Post and owns her own beekeeping company in Austin, Texas, has become something of a bee celebrity influencer on TikTok. In one video, she helps singer Jason Derulo remove a hive from his home.
Her videos, typically showing her handling the bees with her bare hands without wearing a traditional beekeeping suit, have amassed hundreds of millions of views.
But @LAHoneyBeeRescue, whose account has 22,000 followers, claimed that it's actually Thompson's husband who does most of the work behind the scenes.
"She doesn't show her wearing protective gear when she analyzes the hive at first. She shows herself removing comb her husband has pre-cut for her very courteously," @LAHoneyBeeRescue said.
@LAHoneyBeeRescue says that Thompson is setting a "dangerous precedent" and that her videos are faked.
However, some of @LAHoneyBeeRescue's accusations appear to be rebutted by Thompson's videos themselves. In her videos, Thompson is seen lifting comb out of hives, scooping up bees with her hands and using power tools. In some, she is seen wearing a beekeeping veil and helmet.
Thompson and @LAHoneyBeeRescue did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Martha Kiene, president of the Virginia State Beekeepers Association, said that while bees are typically attracted to dark colors, like the ones Thompson sometimes wears, she sees no issue with how Thompson handles bees.
"I have seen the Texas beekeeper before. She's very, very impressive because she's fearless. She handles the bees fine. She's doing a cut-out. A removal ... she's doing it humanely and carefully," Kiene said.
In Texas, there are Africanized bees, which can be aggressive, Kiene said. Because of this, Kiene's preference would be to gear up before handling those bees. She added, however, that wearing gear like a jacket and veil is just that — a preference.
"I just caution anyone that if they think 'Oh yeah, that would be a good thing. I could go in there and do that' — only a very experienced beekeeper would go in there without protection," Kiene said. "But as far as handling the bees, she handles the bees gently and calmly and very bravely."
On social media, reaction was mixed, with users siding with both parties.
A Reddit thread about Thompson's account included comments that appeared to defend Thompson, saying that wearing veils and beekeeping gear is a preference and not a requirement when handling bees.
"Beekeeper here. Veils, suits, and gloves are a personal preference. I personally wear a suit, but I know many people that don’t even wear a veil. It comes down to comfort, confidence, and sting reaction ... At any rate, swarming bees are pretty unlikely to sting," wrote user AAAAHHHHTHEHUMANITY.
One user said that beekeeping is not as glamorous a task as Thompson makes it out to be.
"Sorry to ruin the daydream but it's way less fun than this beautiful woman makes it look. My family are commercial beekeepers and it's mostly just hot f------ work in full suits in the height of Summer which you still get stung through, heavy lifting and [demoralizingly] small honey wholesale prices at the end of the season," wrote user MidnightFruitBath.
Additionally, some online said that influencers are known for staging and curating their videos and images, and beekeeping influencers are no different.
"That’s not necessarily a bad thing either if the goal is to demystify bees and beekeeping and raise support for their business and generally saving honeybees, they’re just curating the page like every other creator," wrote user ElectronSurprise. "I don’t really mind if that’s the case."