How the Disturbing 'American Horror Story' Bee Beard Was Formed

A person covered and surrounded by bees
Instagram / Ryan Murphy 

Since May, American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy has slowly leaked clues about the show’s seventh season on his Instagram account. On Thursday, he leaked one last clue before the title reveal: a horrific photo of a person smothered in a dense layer of bees, with the caption “AHS last clue before this week’s TITLE reveal. Ideas?”

Though disturbing, the scenario shown in the photo isn’t without precedent. Understanding the biology of bees has made it possible for humans to draw bees to their bodies without risking getting stung. The key, researchers have found, is capturing the Queen.

Wearing bees has its history at carnivals, where performers would wear hundreds of bees around their chins and face as bee-beards. The way these men would coax bees to their bodies was by wearing a tiny container holding the queen bee under their chin.

Any bee that’s part of a hive system is inherently attracted to the queen bee. As the only egg-laying bee in a hive, she’s essential to the survival of the hive: If she doesn’t lay eggs, there’s no hope for future populations of worker bees and drones. They’re attracted to her because of her pheromones, which not only encourage worker bees to feed and protect her — hence why they tend to land on chins and faces in her vicinity — but also work as a way to communicate to other bees.

In a 2005 review published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology, researchers from Simon Fraser University and the French National Institute for Agriculture Research pinpointed five chemicals that queen bees produce that attracts other bees. These five chemicals, produced in the mandibular glands, only attract other bees when they are all present simultaneously, which is likely what makes capturing the queen bee the most efficient way to grow a bee beard.

A man named Ruan Liangming took this bee-bearding technique and upped the ante in 2014. He attached 60 queen bees to himself in hopes of setting the Guinness World Record for the heaviest mantle of bees. After pouring buckets of bees onto his body, the final weigh-in recorded 140 pounds’ worth of bees — the equivalent of roughly 637,000 individual insects.

One of the major risks of bee-bearding, of course, is getting stung. However, bees generally don’t sting unless they are provoked. Bees usually die after stinging predators, which is why they only sting as a defense mechanism. While bee venom has a small amount of neurotoxic chemicals, how a person’s body reacts to a sting depends on how sensitive the person is. According to a review published in 1999 in the Western Journal of Medicine, “most victims should be able to survive attacks from hundreds of wasps or approximately 1,000 honeybees” as long as they receive medical attention as soon as possible.

With a production as large as American Horror Story, it’s not likely this bee-covered person was really at a high risk of dying on set. As of now, we can only speculate how this ghastly silhouette of a person relates to the 2016 presidential election-themed plot that Murphy announced earlier this year, but we can be sure the ultimate title reveal will be nothing short of buzz-worthy.

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