Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018
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Matt Markey


Venom collection the key to life-saving vaccine


    Russell Lamp, an entomologist with Integrated Pest Control, removes the nests of hornets, bees and wasps as the first step in the process of producing a vaccine to protect individuals with severe allergic reactions to the venom associated with the sting of these insects.

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    A hornets' nest that Russell Lamp will remove from a home in Toledo.

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The buzz around the entomologist ranks is this could be a big year for all things that sting, so a concerted effort is on to make it a banner campaign for collecting the venom that can help save the lives of those humans who likely are to suffer severe allergic reactions to the stings of wasps, bees, and hornets.

Each year, local Vespidae (wasps) expert and Anthophila (bees) aficionado Russell Lamp collects large nests of a variety of top stingers and harvests their venom. Lamp, usually working at night when the insects likely are to be in the nest, first smokes the nest with carbon dioxide gas to temporarily stun the hornets. He then quickly encloses the nest in a container before the smoke wears off and the insects start looking for a fight. The nests are placed in a freezer, then cleaned to separate the inhabitants from the debris in the nest.

The hornets, wasps, and bees Lamp collects are shipped to labs where the venom is removed. This incredibly powerful material, which in some wasp stings amounts to just two micrograms (a microgram is one-millionth of a gram), is diluted with other inert ingredients and used to make desensitizing vaccines. Over time, tiny incremental increases in the amount of venom in the vaccine helps build up resistance to its ability to cause severe reactions and potentially death in some individuals.

Lamp said about 3 percent of the U.S. population has a severe allergy to bee, wasp, and hornet stings that can range from breaking out in hives to a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, or shock and cardiac arrest. Bee and wasp stings kill more people in this country each year than snake bites, according to a study by Penn State University.

“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 three decades.

“This has been an interesting year, with a large number of yellow jacket queens that did survive the winter,” he said.

While the wasp colony dies off during the colder months, the recently mated queens holding the next generation survive and enter a state of suspended development similar to hibernation called diapause. In most years, some of the queens will emerge early and be killed by a late frost or exceptionally wet and cold weather, Lamp said.

“We had a lot of those queens survive this year,” Lamp said.

The late start to spring initially slowed the development of the new colonies, but Lamp said the prolonged spells of warmer weather we have experienced through the first half of summer have allowed them to catch up.

He added with all of the insect life hatched on Lake Erie this year, the wasps and hornets found ample supplies of food. Lamp said he began taking down whole nests a couple of weeks ago, and will continue that effort into the early fall. He is looking for the large papery nests of bald-faced hornets, in-ground nests of yellow jackets, and the nests of other wasps, hornets, and bees. He will remove some of the large nests of the target species free of charge, if they have not been sprayed with insecticide.

“This year I am taking just about everything I can get my hands on,” Lamp said, adding some of the larger nests can hold 400 individual insects and provide a lot of venom for the laboratory to use to make its vaccines.

Lamp can be reached at 419-836-3710.

ELK FOUNDATION BANQUET: Back in 1984, four hunters from Montana started the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in order to support conservation efforts that would secure the future for this majestic game animal and preserve the hunting heritage in America. Since, RMEF has helped fund more than $1 billion in conservation projects and worked to protect or enhance more than 7.3 million acres of vital elk habitat.

Elk once numbered some 10 million animals throughout North America, but there were fewer than 50,000 left by the early 20th century because of unregulated harvest and loss of habitat. Thanks in no small part to the work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other conservation groups, about 1 million elk are found in the U.S. and Canada today. RMEF has assisted in enhancing habitat and restoring wild, free-ranging elk herds to their native range in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The largest fund-raisers to back these efforts are the annual local chapter banquets. The Northwest Ohio Chapter of RMEF will conduct its banquet Aug. 11 at Holland Gardens on Angola Road. The doors open at 5 p.m. and there will be many raffles, auctions, and prizes. Please support the great conservation work this organization does and learn more about RMEF and elk in North America by attending the banquet.

Tickets are available from Gary Seymour at 419-476-948 and on the RMEF website. Ohio has 10 RMEF chapters representing around 4,000 members, while Michigan has 19 RMEF chapters and more than 6,000 members.

GREEN STUFF: There are spaces available Wednesday for the OSU Extension’s 2018 Green Industry Summer Session, a workshop that offers programs on plants, pests, landscaping to help pollinators, and invasive vegetation, along with several others on insects and plant care.

Professionals in the green industry and those knowledgeable about plants will lead a dozen sessions from noon to 4 p.m., with participants choosing four of the hour-long sessions to attend. The program will be at Owens Community College on the west side of campus in Heritage Hall/North Entrance. Lunch is included for those who preregister. The registration form is available at lucas.osu.edu/GISS and registration or information are available by calling 419-578-6783.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, or 419-724-6068.

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