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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Written by Hannah

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