Are Insect Pests A Problem In Museums?

January 19, 2018 | Posted In: General

Are Insect Pests A Problem In Museums?

Although most museums appear to be excessively clean, insects can become problematic in any museum. Obviously museums display items that are made from a variety of different materials that are attractive to certain bugs. These materials include wood, paper and textiles. There have been numerous scientific articles addressing the presence of insect pests in museums. Some of these academic publications focus on safe insect eradication measures within museums, some focus on the types of insects that can be found in museums, and others focus on aspects of insect infestations within museums that you could never conjure up on your own. One of the most problematic insect types that are found in museums are known as “textile pests”.

Textile pests are also referred to as protein feeders, and these insects are among the very few animals that can digest a substance known as “keratin”. Keratin is a common protein found in animal hair and chitin. Chitin forms insect bodies, so keratin is a highly prized compound among textile pests. Experts have divided textile pests into three distinct groups. These groups include clothes moths, carpet beetles and hide beetles. These beetles belong to a family of beetles that feed on leather, fur, feathers, floor coverings, wool, silk and feathers. Items that are stored in museum collection areas are sometimes invaded by these beetles. Objects such as stuffed animal carcasses often become damaged as a result of the feeding activity of these beetles.

Clothes moths have damaged a variety of historic objects in museums all over the world. For example, hats that were worn by important military figures from the past have become damaged by these moths. Both carpet and tapestry moths have consumed portions of wall hangings that displayed historically significant art forms. Insects that damage wooden items are also problematic for museum officials. These insects are not solely limited to termites, as wood boring and powderpost beetles have often damaged priceless relics made of wood. The problem of insect pests in museums is serious enough that the National Park Service offers the public a PDF describing how insect pest damage in museums can be recognized.

Have you ever spotted an insect within a museum that you had visited in the past?