While many people run away from bees in order to avoid getting stung, Erika Thompson moves toward them. The Texas resident has long had a fascination with the insects, and she turned her obsession into a beekeeping career.
Now, that career has also turned her into a viral TikTok sensation.
In the spring of 2020, when most people were stuck at home and were passing their time by scrolling through the app, Erika began to post videos of her removing bees from unique places.
She often uses her bare hands to guide the bees from their homes out of to safety, which has stunned TikTok users.
Since she started her page, Erika's @TexasBeeWorks account has amassed more than 6 million followers. Read on to find out more about the beekeeper-turned-influencer.
Who is Erika Thompson, the beekeeper on TikTok?
The 35-year-old Austin resident first became interested in bugs in general when she was a child.
"Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my backyard with a net and a Mason jar catching and collecting any insect I could find," Erika wrote on Instagram in May of 2020. "My (amazing!) mom wouldn't let me have a pet for the longest time, but I was a huge animal lover so I tried to keep the bugs I caught as pets...which didn’t always work out that well."
Though Erika was always fascinated with insects, she didn't decide to pursue a career in beekeeping until 2011. She had been working an office job as a Communications Director when she decided to sign up for a beekeeping class. The following spring, Erika created her first beehive on her property. The rest is history.
"My love of insects continued into adulthood, and when I saw the opportunity to take a beekeeping class, I signed up right away. I actually had no intention of becoming a beekeeper and I really just wanted to learn more about honeybees as a species. But as you may have guessed by now, I walked away from that class completely fascinated with bees," she continued on Instagram.
"I began reading every bee book I could find and spent hours online researching honeybees," she shared. "After months of preparation, I started my first hive in the spring of the following year in my backyard.... "
In 2014, Erika started her Texas Beeworks business. For several years, she worked on it at night and on the weekends. She decided to devote her full-time attention to the hive management venture in 2019.
In addition to her bee removals, Erika also makes money by teaching beekeeping lessons and by offering private tutoring sessions.
She began chronicling her fascinating extractions on TikTok in 2020, which has allowed her to grow her business. Her videos ofen feature her moving colonies of bees from old homes, trees, wooden cabinets and, in one instance, a toilet.
In some of her most popular videos, Erika extracts the bees without gloves or her beekeeping suit. This may put many viewers on edge, but Erika is fearless when it comes to interacting with the insects.
While many people would recognize Erika from her TikTok videos, she actually appeared on several game shows before her account really took off. She was a contestant on an episode of To Tell the Truth, which first aired in May of 2020. Her Texas Beeworks business was also a special category on a 2019 episode of Jeopardy.
Who is Erika Thompson's husband?
About six months after Erika started her now-popular TikTok account, she wed Andrew Hollister. After postponing their big day once due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple swapped vows in a backyard ceremony on October 10, 2020.
Unsurprisingly, bees were a part of Erika's big day. In her wedding announcement, Erika noted that there was a beehive living in a log that was placed at the end of the aisle.
The pair also included their three dogs in their ceremony. Andrew and Erika live in Texas.
Erika's account has sparked some bee-related drama on TikTok.
Erika obviously has a huge following on the popular video-sharing app, but as her account has become more and more popular, it's also been met with some criticism from fellow beekeepers. One TikTok user in particular — @lahoneybeerescue — made a series of videos sharing several issues they saw with Erika's content.
In a series of videos, Friday Chamberlain (who runs the @lahoneybeerescue account) shared that they feel as though much of what Erika does in her own videos is actually quite dangerous. "I’m 100 percent OK with her showing how docile swarms are, but the fact is that she goes into removals without wearing any safety gear, wearing black leggings, a black tank top, and a dark blue shirt that’s unbuttoned overtop and knotted,” they pointed out in one video. “She’s setting a very dangerous precedent."
As Friday's videos started gaining views, other beekeepers and bee removal specialists started chiming in — some of them echoed Friday's concerns, while others felt as though things had been a bit blown out of proportion. Erika suddenly found herself at the center of a new kind of swarming hive: people clamoring for #beetok drama.
Erika took to Instagram to respond to Friday's claims and assert that she is a professional beekeeper who takes her responsibilities very seriously. While she continues to have some detractors on social media, there are clearly also plenty of people who love to watch what she's doing.