Carl Roush gets stung by insects an average of two times a week. That’s a side effect of his job.
Since 1986, Roush, of Longview, has collected stinging insects — such as yellowjackets and hornets — for medical use.
Roush has a master’s degree in entomology; he completed his thesis under the supervision of Roger Akre, who was considered one of the leading world authorities on yellowjackets.
He has taught biology for 32 years at Lower Columbia College, and spends the summer collecting the insects.
He sends the them to a lab, where the venom is extracted from the insects; it’s then used to treat allergy patients.
“For $5 you can get a can of spray and wipe them out,” Roush said. “But people like that we use them for a good purpose.”
Roush is one of handful of collectors across the U.S.
Mike Juhl, of Olympia, also collects the insects.
Juhl used to work as a truck driver for the state, but started collecting insects for labs in 1977; it’s been his livelihood since 1994, he said.
“It’s free, customers know it’s for a good cause and it’s helping somebody get immunized,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. Not many business have that opportunity. And I get to go around and see all kinds of places — it’s a lot of fun.”
Juhl said he makes about 1,500 stops in a summer; one stop can yield between $30 and $50.
In the case of aerial yellowjackets, collectors use a canister vacuum to suck up all the insects.
Then they put them in a cooler packed with dry ice.
Afterward the insects are kept in a freezer until they can be shipped.
“We usually go FedEx,” Juhl said. “We deal by the pound. You wait until it’s cost effective, then ship them overnight in a big box. You do it weekly or every other week when you’re dealing with a lot of them.”
Juhl and Roush both cover counties throughout southwest Washington and share Lewis County. They offer refer clients to each other.
“I don’t go north of Centralia, and he doesn’t go south of Chehalis,” Roush said.
Juhl said many people are repeat customers. Otherwise, most customers come from word of mouth or advertising.
“Luckily there’s always enough nests,” he said.