Austin beekeeper wrangles honey bees for ‘Jeopardy!’ category airing Monday


AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin beekeeper will see her work featured nationally on Monday.

Erika Thompson, founder and owner of Texas Beeworks, got an email last year from “Jeopardy!” producers saying they wanted to create a video category related to bees and asking for her help.

She helped them write the clues, and the Clue Crew production team stopped by a collection of about 20 hives in November to record the videos that will be used in Monday’s show.

Thompson won’t appear in the clues herself; her job was to be a “bee wrangler” for the crew.

“They would just ask for more smoke or more bees,” she said, “and that was kind of my role on the filming day.”

The smoke is used for two purposes in beekeeping. First, it masks the alarm pheromones bees produce when the hive is under attack, and, second, it helps move them around so they are easier to manage.

Thompson has about 100 hives across Austin. She places and manages hives on other people’s property for a fee so they can get a break on property taxes under the agricultural evaluation allowed under Texas law. 

She also holds classes and teaches others about the importance and care of honey bees.

“I started to keep bees just out of a love for the species and it grew as organically as it possibly could into a business,” she said.

When Thompson found something peculiar or interesting about her bees, she explained, she’d post photos and videos on Instagram, alongside bee facts. She believes that’s how the “Jeopardy!” producers found her and why they thought she’d be a good fit to help with the category.

This year has been particularly good for honey bees. An explosion in wildflowers this spring means there’s a lot of nectar and pollen for the bees to turn into honey.

“The bees this year are doing better than ever,” Thompson said.

Each worker bee (all of which are female) makes only 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime; a healthy hive contains about 50,000 bees, though, meaning they can churn out more than five gallons of honey collectively, so there’s plenty to go around.

But, like beekeepers across the country, Thompson is concerned about the future of honey bees. Colonies are dying off, and if it continues or accelerates, it could threaten crops humans rely on.

She advises people to do three things to help honey bees live and thrive: buy local produce, buy organic and plant pollinator-friendly plants.

Thompson wouldn’t reveal publicly what the clues in Monday’s bee category will be, but she hopes their appearance on “Jeopardy!” will reinforce to people that they can and should try to help the insects.

“It’s a good business to be in,” she said. “Everybody in Austin is really on board with helping honey bees.”

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