Eli5 do bees and wasps know what they can’t sting?


It occurred to me that bees and wasps might not be able to tell the difference between materials when they are about to sting. Do they try to sting things like metal or wood or are they able to detect skin somehow? An example would be if someone decided to hit a hive/nest with a baseball bat. The person would definitely get stung, but would they also attack the bat?

A related follow up question is whether they would suffer any adverse effects if they did try to sting something hard. I would guess they don’t have the strength to break or damage their stinger, but if you know please enlighten me.

In: Biology


I got this off Google, but maybe try asking the lovely people in r/beekeeping also.

Technically, the nitrile gloves do not protect from stings. They are thin and the bees can definitely sting through them, however because of the nature of the material the bees usually rarely attempt to sting them. When I wear leather gloves, defensive bees will readily sting.

They can definitely sense skin, and they are excellent at detecting smells, like on a “molecular” level. And your skin smells. If they were to get in your hair, they keep pressing on until they get to your scalp.They’re also great at detecting a face, even through a bee suit. The eyes, the nose, the mouth, basically they hav evolved to hit you where it hurts.

Also important to note that wasps have smooth stingers and can sting repeatedly without damage to themselves while honey bees die when they sting you.

I have had hundreds of honey bee stingers get stuck in my leather gloves or my cotton pants, and plenty of honey bees try and sting my through my veil with no success.

In short, they have a knack for finding the weakest point in the armor. Metal and wood don’t represent a material they have evolved to attack. But that wouldn’t stop them from trying if you were wearing a suit of armor and attacking their hive.

Nope. If they think something is an enemy of the hive, they’ll sting it. I was once taking apart a bald-faced hornet nest. Little basties were coming out and stinging the stream of poison.

I have observed yellow jacket wasps stinging anything and everything when stirred up sufficiently. They don’t seem to care if it will have an effect or not.