If you are one of the fortunate Midwesterners who has a colony of stinging insects homesteading on your property, the world of science wants to hear from you.
By this point on the calendar, bees, wasps, and hornets have set up shop and constructed their nests. They have their own highly confrontational way of letting you know to keep your distance from these nests, which house their royalty, and the next generation.
Inside the nests of a certain group of these airborne stingers is the key to a vaccine that can protect people with severe allergic reactions from what amount to life-threatening stings.
Russell Lamp, a pest control specialist based in Oregon, collects the nests of bald-faced hornets -- a wasp that builds those large, gray, paper lantern-like nests that are usually hanging from tree branches. After a meticulous cleaning and sorting process, Lamp sends the hornets to pharmaceutical companies in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Washington state where the hornets become part of the vaccine process.
"This is a program that saves lives, so it's very important that we get these nests when they are active and full at this time of year," said Lamp, who has been collecting the nests for more than 30 years.
Lamp said the segment of unusually warm weather in March initiated activity in the bee, wasp, and hornet colonies, but the seasonably cold weather that followed likely killed off a number of the queens.
"So we think the nests that survived will be larger than usual," Lamp said.
He is interested in bald-faced hornet nests approximately the same size as a basketball, or larger. Lamp will remove the nests for free and will respond to calls on hornet nests all across northwest Ohio and into southeast Michigan.
"What we really need are these large nests that are not too awfully hard to get to, and nests that haven't been messed with. If a nest has been sprayed, we can't use it, so it is critical to not hit the nest with any kind of spray."
Lamp normally arrives at a nest site around dark when the insects are not in their peak activity period. He smokes the nest with carbon dioxide gas to temporarily stun the hornets and then quickly encloses the nest in a container before the insects wake up looking for a fight.
The nests are placed in a freezer, and then cleaned to separate the hornets from the debris in the nest. Once shipped to the labs, the hornets have their venom removed, and it is used to make the desensitizing vaccines.
About three percent of the U.S. population has a severe allergy to bee, wasp, and hornet stings that can range from hives to a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, or shock and cardiac arrest. Bee stings kill more people in this country each year than snake bites, according to a study by Penn State University.
Resistance to these severe allergic reactions to the venom in stings is built up over time through a series of injections that slowly introduce higher concentrations of the bee and wasp venom. The Mayo Clinic recommends that anyone who has had a serious reaction to a bee sting consult with an allergy specialist about a regimen of immunotherapy and wear an alert bracelet identifying them as someone with this particular allergy.
"It is especially important for people who work outdoors, in landscaping, or construction or other fields where they are likely to come into contact with stinging insects," Lamp said. "They should get tested by an allergist, so they know before they get stung and are in a crisis. If you're allergic, this can become a life-threatening situation immediately."
The bald-faced wasps Lamp is looking for make their nests by chewing bits of wood, then blending it with the starch in their saliva and spreading this mixture out to dry. The paper-like substance created by this process forms the hornet nests.
Lamp can be reached at 419-836-3710.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.