On Dec. 8, 2022, a Reddit user posted on the r/interestingasfuck subreddit a video of what appeared to be an aerial drone with a flamethrower that was torching a wasp nest in a tree. The post was captioned simply as, "A flamethrower drone taking out a wasp nest." We soon found evidence that supported the clip came from a real video.
The video was recorded near a brick structure and showed a watermark for TikTok user @bebeetok, who had posted the video hours earlier on the same day.
Other videos posted by @bebeetok showed that the account appeared to specialize in videos about bees and wasps, as well as harvesting honey in jars. The account's oldest video was from August of the same year.
One TikTok comment said, "FAKE." Another asked, "Is this real?" A third commenter remarked, I legit can't believe some of the shit I see on this app. This is one of those rare times where I am like holy shit the future is here." Also, one person joked, "Bee serious this is real ?? Unbeelivable."
We did not find any other videos on the TikTok account that showed a drone and flamethrower being used on a wasp nest. It's unclear if the user recorded the video or if it was simply reposted from a source we were unable to locate. We asked the user about the video but did not receive a response.
A search of the web for stories about an aerial drone that can take out a wasp nest led us to an article from two years before.
On Dec. 11, 2020, The Associated Press published a story about efforts to destroy wasp nests with fire in China, as they had purportedly been stinging local residents:
BEIJING (AP) — A drone has been converted into a flying flamethrower in central China in a fiery campaign to eradicate more than 100 wasp nests.
Blue Sky Rescue, a volunteer group that conducts search and rescue and other emergency work, have teamed up with villagers in Zhong county near the city of Chongqing.
They raised 80,000 yuan ($12,200) to buy a drone and equip it with a gasoline tank and an arm-length nozzle.
In other words, the Blue Sky Rescue group customized a drone to add a flamethrower-style device. The customized drone shown in photographs in The AP's story matched that of the drone in the video that was posted to Reddit and TikTok. This led us to the conclusion that the video was authentic, which meant a "True" fact-check rating.
On the same day that The AP reported the story, South China Morning Post (SCMP) also uploaded a video that showed the drone taking out wasp nests. The exact same clip seen on Reddit and TikTok did not appear in SCMP's video, but the same customized aerial drone was visible.
One of the clips that appeared in South China Morning Post's video was also available with its original sound on Newsflare. Additionally, we also located a different Reddit post from April 2022 that showed another nest being torched.
Consulting the Experts
First, let's establish the fact that "all hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets," as published by Almanac.com.
One Reddit user claimed in a comment that the nest belonged to bald-faced hornets. Another person replied that the nest seemed to be abandoned in the fall. Rather than placing blind trust in anonymous commenters, we contacted several experts.
Michael F. Potter is a provost's distinguished service professor emeritus, who is retired from the Department of Entomology at the University of Kentucky. We showed Potter the video. By email, he told us, "It probably is a bald-faced hornet nest, a type of 'wasp' that often makes its nest up in trees."
Potter also said that he didn't think the flamethrower device on the drone was a good idea for two reasons. "Bald-faced hornet nests die off in late fall and early winter with the coming of colder temperatures, so if you leave the nest alone, it will die off on its own." The other reason was that he believed it to be a fire hazard.
"The only time I recommend removal is when the nest is lower in the tree canopy, say within 10-12 ft. of the ground, where it could be disturbed by kids playing or passersby," Potter added.
George C. Hamilton, who is with the Department of Entomology at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, also believed it to be a bald-faced hornet nest, adding, "I am 95% sure." Hamilton told us by email, "At the time of year [shown in the video] it appears to be essentially harmless because all of the members of the nest including the queen are dead. The new queens produced by the nest have also left and are hibernating in protected areas. In the spring they become active and find their own place to build a nest."
Hamilton also provided us with an interesting tidbit. "Not all hornets are hornets, which is the case for the bald-faced hornet," he said. "It's one of the problems with common names. The only true hornet in the U.S. is European hornet (Vespa crabro). Bald-faced hornets are in the wasp genus (Dolichovespula) which includes 7 or 8 species including yellow jackets."
Speaking of yellow jackets, Howard Russell, an entomologist with the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University, told us that it's "hard to say" from just looking at the video, but that, "My first thought is a yellowjacket nest (Vespula spp)."
'Florida Veteran Fined by HOA' Meme
The news from The Associated Press apparently inspired a satirical meme that showed up on iFunny.co three days after the story went up in December 2020.
The meme showed what may have been an alternate angle of the same drone torching the same nest from the video, or perhaps a different drone and/or nest. It read, "Florida veteran fined by HOA for torching wasps' nest with flamethrower drone he named after ex-wife."
USA Today also debunked this specific claim about Florida in the past, giving it a rating of "False."