Academy Voices: Karen Verderame

Karen Verderame calls herself a bug nerd. When she isn’t at the Academy planning the logistics of one of the most popular events of the year, she can be found climbing trees and turning over logs in search of the creepy-crawly creatures she loves so much.

Verderame’s fascination with bugs began early. At age 12, she started volunteering in the Philadelphia Zoo’s backyard bugs exhibit. That volunteer work quickly became a career, and in 2003 Verderame joined the Academy. For many years she served as Outside In supervisor and training and enrichment manager. She cared for mammals and invertebrates, trained volunteers, and kept Outside In fresh and exciting.

Now, all her energy goes into Bug Fest, our annual festival celebrating these prickly, sticky, wiggly, yucky, creepy, crawly critters.

“I have always enjoyed sharing my passion for animals,” she explains. “I use my passion to guide my staff and volunteers so they can help visitors learn something about nature that they haven’t heard before.”

Verderame constantly comes up with new ways to make science interesting and relatable for visitors of all ages and educational backgrounds.

“I always try to have my enthusiasm on!” she says. “If I can find a way to connect people to what I’m talking about and make it personal, I can inspire them to take action on the environment.”

Photo by Alex Rudinski
Photo by Alex Rudinski

Verderame hopes to make a difference by helping visitors learn to respect invertebrates, which she believes make up one of the most misunderstood animal groups in the world. As the point person for the Academy’s annual Bug Fest, she helps create and execute interactive visitor activities. She also collects bugs, which sometimes involves traveling to the New Jersey Pine Barrens with Academy entomologists. Verderame has traveled as far as Arizona to search for bugs.

“I want to leave as little impact on the environment as possible,” she explains. “If I don’t know how to keep a bug alive, I don’t take it. I also don’t take anything endangered.”

Verderame strives to understand the environment in which she is collecting so she can keep her specimens comfortable. She creates mini habitats inside containers, making sure her bugs have the food they need and are kept at the right temperature.

“Caring for invertebrates keeps you on your toes,” she says. “They are so diverse! I like a challenge, and they always present one.”

Verderame lives and breathes bugs. Academy staff members leave bugs on her desk for identification; when she returns home, she finds bugs from the neighborhood children on her doorstep. But it’s never a burden. In fact, Verderame encourages her community to take an active interest in her work. After Academy events that involve live bugs, she and the neighborhood kids get together to release the bugs back into their natural surroundings.

“I want to make a difference by helping people forge connections to the natural world,” she says. “It’s all about igniting that spark of curiosity and stewardship!”

Are you a fan of insects? Check out more stories on our blog, and save the date for Bug Fest!

[color-box color=”yellow”]Bug Fest

Join us on August 8 and 9, 2015, for our annual celebration of insects! Enjoy new activities and shows on the grosser features of insects, stretch and pose like a phasmid in a bug yoga class, and visit the bug clinic to find out how bugs might help (or hurt) your health. Plus revisit some old favorites—back by popular demand. Talk with real scientists, learn about insects from all over the world, and see specimens from the Academy’s behind-the-scenes collections. Eat bugs, get your face painted, and relax as you enjoy a buggy show. Buy your tickets today!

This article was adapted from the Fall 2011 issue of Academy Frontiers.

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