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Collections blog

“It’s a trap!”– Pests in Museums (part 3)

User AvatarPosted by Penelope Lovesy at 06/07/2020 10:30:55

I’m sure you’re all crouched on a chair, rocking back and forth at the terrifying thought of moths eating your pyjamas, silverfish eating your wallpaper and furniture beetles eating the very chair you’re currently crouched on… I hope you’ve not been like that for a fortnight!

Fear not, we collections folk have a few tricks up our sleeves to rid us of the pests. In this final instalment we will examine some of the pest control methods used in museums.

Undoubtedly, the most widely used method of pest control, or at least identification, is the use of blunder traps (pictured above). The cardboard traps have sticky surfaces on the floor and back wall which traps any unsuspecting menace as they blunder through, without the possibility of escape. The placing of these traps is key; against a wall and near a point of entry. Insects tend to use a familiar route along the walls of rooms, known as a run, so placing these blunder traps where insects are likely to be going enables you to catch them in the act. Thankfully, or not if you’re an arachnophobe, we mainly catch spiders, practically every native species you can think of! These traps enable you to monitor the situation in an area and regular checks and recording of the contents is crucial for an effective pest management system. Blunder traps can be a useful early alarm system for identifying potential threats to act upon quickly in order to prevent things getting any worse.

Moths provide a whole different problem; they prefer to fly about. It wouldn’t be very practical to run about the room waving a blunder trap and, frankly, it would just look ridiculous. Luckily, certain sticky traps can be wall-mounted and some come with the addition of a secret weapon. The traps are laced with pheromones, chemicals that encourage the moths towards the traps. The one downside of this approach is that general purpose pheromones may block out the required response as most pheromone reactions are species specific. Due to the cost it can often only be viable to purchase specific pheromone traps when you have identified a particular species of moth. Thankfully, moth deterrents have come a long way since the vile smelling moth balls of old and nice, subtly fragranced hang deterrents can be hung in with costume collections and furniture without the risk of harm to the collection.

Prevention is the best cure but sometimes, despite your best efforts, pests just get into museums and collections stores and once they’re in it can be challenging to remove them. So how could we remove an infestation once it has already occurred? A deep clean of the infested area is priority number one as well as quarantining objects known to be affected. In a lot of cases, wrapping an object as soon as the problem has been discovered is essential. Moth ridden objects can be wrapped in acid free tissue and wrapped again with polythene sheeting, before taping all edges securely. If the edges are not secure, the moth larvae will simply break free; they’re particularly wriggly blighters.

As mentioned in part one, woodworm attacks are often undetected until it’s too late. If objects are suspected of a woodworm hotel you need to act fast; move, collect any adults that may be about and hoover. The adults normally emerge around March and April so it is best to get things underway before then. It’s then time to fetch a zip-lock bag or that polythene sheeting again and secure it without means of escape. Metal parts or other delicate aspects should be wrapped and cushioned with acid-free tissue. Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it’s off to the freezer you go for around a week, before coming out to thaw and then having one final trip to the icy prison. The initial freezing period will kill any adults and larvae that are present in the wood, while the thaw and refreezing process will encourage any eggs to develop and hatch before an insect infanticide massacre occurs again.

When it’s too late for even this type of action, the only possible solution is the kill the insects with spray on insecticide or the use of aerosol foggers that are activated and fill the room with an insecticidal mist. Because of the damage that can be caused to objects these are only used as a last resort and with extreme caution; professional specialists guiding at every step or carrying out the work themselves.


Sometimes things are spotted early before a problem occurs. Sometimes things are lost, without hope of rescue or repair; that’s just the nature of things. And sometimes items can be salvaged in the expert hands of a conservator but that’s a whole other story.

That’s it for now but don’t let your guard down and keep those eyes peeled; moths are notorious for braking 1m + distancing regulations and furniture beetles are welcome to enter another household! For one final time stand and shout with great voice; stay alert, control pests and save collections.

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