It is ironic that a project filled with activity and energy was inspired by a visit to a museum full of truly inanimate objects — stones. This is how Chris Koerner described the inspiration for starting Ozane Termite & Pest Control’s Insectropolis, a 7,000-square-foot living, crawling and flying museum dedicated solely to insects.
“My wife and I were visiting various children’s museums with our daughter and we came across the Stone Museum that had displays on minerals and precious stones,” says Koerner. “I was impressed at how they took what was interesting about a general topic and made it appealing to visitors.”
Koerner says following that visit he began thinking that a museum dedicated to insects would be a good way to promote Ozane’s services and to educate and inform the public.
Koerner’s father, Tom, and brothers agreed the museum project was a worthwhile venture and would offer benefits to both the community and Ozane, and thus the Insectropolis was born.
But how does a pest management professional learn to be a museum curator? Koerner says a lot of trial and error took place during the planning phase and he conducted extensive online research and visited other museums for ideas on setting up displays and how to create interactive experiences for visitors.
Koerner says he spent time with Steve Kanya, owner of Steve’s Bug Off Exterminating, in Philadelphia, one of a handful of PMPs who pioneered the concept of pest professional-owned museums with the opening of the Insectarium in 1992. He says his visits with Kanya helped shed light on what Koerner needed to do to attract visitors and maintain the energy and creative levels beyond the first year. “We spent a lot of time researching how to set up the displays, and how to mount and present the insects,” says Koerner, a graduate of Rider College with a degree in organizational management who had thoughts about a career in education prior to joining the family business. “It was very time-intensive and we hired a professional to help us set the foundation.”
Following four years of intensive planning, gathering specimens and designing exhibits, the Insectropolis opened in late summer 2005 on property shared with Ozane‘s corporate office in Toms River, N.J., 70 miles south of New York City along the New Jersey shore.
Now in its ninth year, the Insectropolis has developed an impressive array of interactive displays for visitors of all ages. The exhibits, which are designed in-house by Chris Koerner’s sisters-in-law, Diane and Valerie Redzinak, are intended to both educate and entertain the more than 30,000 annual visitors.
An Industry of Educators.
Like many who chose to make a career in pest management, Koerner feels that education is a significant part and responsibility of the job.
From helping homeowners identify the critter they caught inside their basement and brought in a plastic bag to the Insectropolis to the busses full of schoolchildren and teachers that take tours, there are opportunities to educate at every turn.
“People in this industry are educators and help customers better understand what type of pest problem they have and how to correct it,” adds Koerner. “A better informed customer is a customer that sees the benefits of pest management services.”
Koerner admits there is irony in owning a museum dedicated to insects right across from the parking lot at Ozane, whose mission it is to eliminate insects from homes and businesses.
“Each insect has its own place in nature and one of our objectives with the Insectropolis is to separate what is a harmful insect from what is a beneficial insect,” says Koerner. “What visitors discover sometimes surprises them.”
One example of a pest that is not fully appreciated for its positive role in the environment, Koerner points out, is the spider. Spiders give a large portion of the population the chills if they see one crawl across the floor but spiders are actually one of the more beneficial insects because they eat other harmful pests. In addition to hosting groups at the Insectropolis, Koerner and his staff, led by outreach bug keeper, Jesse Herdman, have developed a growing outreach program that takes insects on the road into classrooms and other groups who can’t make the trip to the Insectropolis.
And what are the most popular insects at Insectropolis? Koerner says the rose-haired tarantula, which visitors can actually touch, Giant African millipede, emperor scorpion and Madagascar hissing cockroach top the list of most popular insects for wide-eyed visitors.
Koerner says Insectropolis and Ozane share cross promotion synergies. There is an information stand inside the museum promoting Ozane’s services and Insectropolis visitors receive a Bug Club discount card with museum information on one side and a discount coupon for pest or termite services on the other. “One of the most satisfying aspects is seeing those busses of school children pull up and realize that we transformed an idea into reality and are giving back to the community in a positive way,” says Koerner.