Bugging for Bug Fest, Part 2

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Academy’s most popular festival, Bug Fest. This year it takes place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12 and 13, and we’re planning some exciting new activities, as well as old favorites.

Academy Insect Specialist Karen Verderame has been a force behind Bug Fest since the beginning. Not only is she a creative festival planner, but her deep love and curiosity for insects of all kinds is infectious—and might be hard to fathom for some folks who shy away from all that is creepy, crawly, slimy and scary.

We wanted to find out what makes Karen tick. Here are her thoughts in the second of a two-part post.

Girl with a roach earring. Look for Karen Verderame (ver-der-AH-me) at Bug Fest.

If you could be an insect, which would it be?

A bumblebee.

Which bug do you like to eat the most?

If we are just using the slang “bug” to encompass all arthropods, my favorite is crabs. Many people don’t realize crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimp are arthropods, just like insects, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and centipedes. So if you like to eat shrimp….well you are pretty much eating a “bug,” the cockroach of the sea!

What’s your favorite part of Bug Fest?

I love interacting with the visitors. I’ve met some amazing people of a variety of ages over the years. Just getting to share my passion for arthropods and seeing others get excited by the world of bugs.

How many live bugs will be at Bug Fest 2017?

We’ll have over 120 species of live bugs and countless specimens. There will be varieties of tarantulas, aquatic insects, large beetles (including my favorite, the elephant beetle), praying mantids, scorpions, caterpillars, and many many more! And our Butterflies! exhibit will have some new species flying too.

The Hercules beetle is among the larger beetles featured at Bug Fest. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

How do you get all those live bugs?

We buy some from breeders and suppliers in Malaysia and Taiwan. Some my colleagues and I collect and some are loans from other institutions. About 40 of the species are from our permanent collection.

If you saw a cockroach in your house what would you do?

It would all depend on what kind of cockroach I found in my house. Only about 1% of cockroach species are considered pest species to humans and they are non-native species that adapted. Now for me, first I would identify it. I do have colonies I keep in tanks at my house of various cockroach species. If it was not one of mine, but a native cockroach, I would catch it and put it outside.  However, it isn’t very common to find native cockroaches in your house in PA. If it was one of the invasive species of cockroach, I would do a search of my house to determine if we might have an infestation. Where I live, I don’t really see many cockroaches in the house, but we do get many other “buggy” visitors to which I catch and release.

How has Bug Fest changed in the last decade?

Bug Fest now takes over every floor of the museum instead of just the first floor. The first year we had over 50 species of live bugs on displays; now we have over 120 species. Roach Race 500 now has three racetracks, instead of one, that we rotate throughout the day. There are multiple crafts, bug walks with our entomologists, more live shows using HD camera for a unique perspective, and there are more educational activities throughout the building.

What’s been your worst disaster at Bug Fest?

Many of our large, most exotic species come from a supplier in Malaysia. In 2013 the shipment did not arrive in time. It was held up in customs because a foreign government office had updated its computer system, causing a delay in paperwork. We were missing 43 species! So the night before Bug Fest my intern and I re-configured all the tanks and displays we had set up throughout the museum to make up for all the missing displays bugs. The shipment arrived a week later.

A peek at insects from the Academy’s Entomology Collection. Photo by Meredith Dolan/ANS

What do you say to someone who says “bugs creep me out.”

I like to tell them that is very common. People don’t like the way they move or think they are all dangerous.  Bugs are really misunderstood but do so much for us. The world can live without many things, but it cannot live without bugs.

Did dinosaurs eat bugs?

Insects have been around since long before dinosaurs. I’m sure some dinosaurs ate bugs.

What is the coolest activity at Bug Fest this year?

For the first time we’ll have a baby bug scavenger hunt through the museum. And then there’s “Exoskeletons in Your Closet” where you’ll find the creatures that invoke fear or misunderstanding, like leeches, some spiders, and scorpions.

Tell me an amazing fast fact about a bug that will knock my socks off.

If you line up ALL living things (animal, plant, fungus), every fifth thing would be beetle! Every third thing would at least be some type of insect. There are over 300,000 species of beetles identified, over 1 million insects identified. They are the most diverse of living things.

Cockroaches have been around for over 300 million years. They predate dinosaurs.

That’s a lot of amazing facts. Thank you Karen!

 To purchase discount tickets online to Bug Fest and to the Backyard Adventures exhibit, click the button below.

buy tickets to the Academy of Natural Sciences

Post by Carolyn Belardo

Part one in the series.

Bugging for Bug Fest