Wasp Venom Can Save Lives. But the Supply Chain Is Shaky.

Venom is crucial to make medicines for those with severe allergic reactions to wasp, hornet, and yellow jacket stings.


One morning in the fall of 2019, Zach Techner stepped into a heavily woven white beekeeper’s suit, pulled on rubber boots and thick orange gloves, and wrapped duct tape around his cuffs and along the zipper. He slid safety glasses over his eyes and a netted hood over his head and zipped it shut. He was preparing to collect one of the most dangerous wild creatures in the United States: yellow jackets.

Techner carried a portable vacuum he had MacGyvered into a wasp-sucking machine to a low thicket of blackberry brambles. A dozen of the flying insects made large descending loops towards their nest in the ground. Over the next 45 minutes, he siphoned the yellow jackets — uninjured but surely a little upset — into a plastic juice jug. He stored the trapped insects beneath a layer of dry ice in a cooler to kill them quickly — and avoid damaging the proteins in their venom.

Wasp collecting isn’t always so uneventful, Techner warned. Yellow jackets can attack — especially in the fall when colonies swell and food is scarce — with sharp stings or by contracting their abdomens to spray their venom in their assailant’s eyes. “When you’re in the middle of a nest and there are thousands of them attacking you, hitting the veil, the venom can still get into your eyes,” he said. “It hurts really bad. It can be blinding.”

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Europe’s triumphs and troubles are written in Swiss ice

Pollen frozen in ice in the Alps traces Europe’s calamities, since the time Macbeth ruled Scotland


As plague swept through Europe in the mid-1300s, wiping out more than a third of the region’s population, a glacier in the Alps was recording the upheaval of medieval society.

While tens of millions of people were dying, pollen from the plants, trees and crops growing in Western Europe were being swept up by the winds and carried toward the Alps.

They became trapped in snowflakes and fell onto the region’s highest mountain, the Monte Rosa massif. Over time, the snow flattened into ever-growing layers of ice, storing a blow-by-blow record of regional environmental change.

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Selected Articles

How Ron Pittaway developed his acclaimed winter finch forecast

LIVING BIRD MAGAZINE, Winter 2020 — Pittaway has made it his mission to lend some predictability to winter finch sightings by compiling intelligence from his network of naturalists across Canada and the U.S. and analyzing the data to reveal his predictions.

Butterflies in the storm

BIOGRAPHIC — Battling rising seas and creeping asphalt, scientists race to save two endangered species.

Cost of Arctic fieldwork limits research

SCIENCE — Funding sources are often insufficient to cover expenses, limiting scientists from understanding how Arctic ecosystems are responding to climate change.

Sea change

BIOGRAPHIC — The Arctic Ocean is beginning to look and act more like the Atlantic. It’s a shift that threatens to upend an entire food web built on frigid waters.

High stakes in the High North

BIOGRAPHIC — A remote island that harbored the word’s last mammoths is becoming a holdout for Arctic wildlife once again.

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