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B.C. zoo staffer elevates #bugsoftiktok buzz with salute to Taylor Swift

Victoria Bug Zoo adapts Swifty kitty social media trend to critters outside the cat kingdom
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Karlee Friesen brings all the bugs to the social media spotlight, to educate, inform and have a little fun along the way. (The Victoria Bug Zoo/TikTok)

Karlee Friesen is taking the Victoria Bug Zoo to a different level with Taylor Swift and #bugsoftiktok.

“I definitely try to follow different trends,” Friesen said.

Her take on the pet paw scanning situation sweeping social media thanks to the mega pop star proved a particular hit.

@thevictoriabugzoo Calli makes a Tik Tok comeback #bugsoftiktok🐜🐌🐛🦗 #bugzoo #victoriabugzoo #bugsoftiktok #giantwalkingsticks #giantstickinsect #goodmorningsayitback #open #funny #ohno ♬ original sound - The Victoria Bug Zoo

“We did that with a bunch of bugs and people really liked that which I thought was absolutely hilarious.”

The Swifty kitty trend prompted debate over whether critters outside the cat kingdom qualify. The more than 350 comments weigh in favour of any animal – bunny, bug or even the occasional dad.

It also scored 50,000 likes so far, not the account’s biggest draw, but up there.

Friesen’s take on a papa’s party doubled that in likes. A papa’s party is a TikTok trend where users pick up the front paws of their cat for a little dance. Friesen recreated it with a Victoria Bug Zoo resident Eurycantha calcarata, commonly called the thorny devil stick insect.

“Everyone loved the papa’s party which I think is adorable,” she said.

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“I really do enjoy teaching and educating people, especially about bugs and how they’re not these big scary monsters we need to worry about,” she said. “You shouldn’t squish them all. Insects are really important for our ecosystem. Without them, it would be a really gross world.”

The Victoria Bug Zoo saw some rapid growth on the platform this year, the first she really focused on it.

“It’s just another fun thing I get to do for the zoo. I still do all the boring admin stuff. I make some time for TikToks. When they’re only a minute long it’s pretty easy to get it into a day,” she said.

Called Karl by her coworkers, Friesen marks five years at the bug zoo come November. She got the job not long after arriving from Kelowna with a bachelor of science in zoology and previous work in entomology on her resume.

She started as a regular employee and educator/guide which can run the gamut from front desk to animal care to tours. It’s standard stuff for staff to take on all the roles.

She became assistant manager early in the “wild rollercoaster” that was 2020 and now works under the title outreach manager.

“I do all the communications for school visits, private tours, birthday parties and adding on social media.”

READ ALSO: Victoria TikTok creator goes viral battling bullies online

She’d done some low-key small business social media work previously, and went to Instagram almost as soon as she started at the downtown Victoria tourist attraction.

Friesen embarked on TikTok last summer.

“For what we do here, TikTok is better,” she said, pointing to the format of fun facts and funny videos. “Stuff that’s just fun about being at the bug zoo, TikTok really loves that stuff.”

Friesen still promotes on other platforms – each platform curated to its audience – but embarked on TikTok last summer and found a good fit.

She really started the push early this year at around 12,000 followers.

“We had more and more likes, and more and more follows and all of a sudden we had 50,000,” she said.

Among the top performers is one that hit 5.1 million views late last year, shortly before she really started to focus on the platform. It’s shot from the perspective of a coworker walking in holding a phone and saying “welcome to the bug zoo you handling things OK over there Karl?”

“It was me with a stick insect on my face. We were just having a morning, it was pretty funny though,” Friesen said.

@thevictoriabugzoo Im out of breath after that one #victoriabugzoo #bugsoftiktok🐜🐌🐛 #bugzootok #stickinsect #stickbug #taylorswift #papasparty #spin #spinningcat #cat ♬ original sound - Mikaela Bisson

“I try to make it as positive as I can because bugs are great and some people just really need to be reminded.”

She’s guilty of laughing at her own jokes, and can be spotted rolling on the floor cackling with laughter when things go well – or not.

That personality shines through, perhaps because she’s the kind of person who shares fun facts about themselves such as: “I am one person away from David Attenborough … I would love to make that zero people away but we’ll see.”

Among her favourite in the more than 50 different species are the ghost mantis – “they’re just so spooky looking” – and the “just so cute” herbivores such as leaf insects.

While Friesen feels the following is too small to inspire spontaneous recognition on this street, it has happened. She’s not ready to break out the wigs and sunglasses just yet – so far it’s a good thing.

“I really do enjoy teaching and educating people, especially about bugs and how they’re not these big scary monsters we need to worry about,” she said. “You shouldn’t squish them all. Insects are really important for our ecosystem. Without them it would be a really gross world.”

The Victoria Bug Zoo leans into the creepy aspect of this month with a Halloween market featuring local creators as well as a spooky bug zoo at night on Oct. 29. Tickets for the event are available on the night in-person only. The market is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. with the zoo will be open from 6 to 8.

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Karlee Friesen introduces one of her many insect friends at work. (The Victoria Bug Zoo/TikTok)
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Karlee Friesen’s take on a papas party proves popular with her following on The Victoria Bug Zoo TikTok account.(The Victoria Bug Zoo/TikTok)


Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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