Behind the Scenes: The importance of Pest monitoring in Museums

When visiting museums (especially if you get the privilege to go behind the scenes) you may well have seen little insect traps in corners or storage cabinets.

These traps make up an integrated pest management (IPM) programme, monitoring the levels of pest insects present in the museum, by looking at those that have stumbled upon the traps. Sometimes lures are used to attract a sex of a target species (e.g. pheromone lures for clothes moths) and sometimes the traps are simply blunder traps.

Our conservation team monitors the traps present in each of our museums, and seasonal reports are generated by our preventative conservation team. The latest report looking at pest activity over the summer months showed a marked increase in pest species trapped in the taxidermy store area at the Booth Museum. Having worked on audits in this section earlier in the summer, we knew this could only have happened in the last couple of months, so set about looking in cupboards. All seemed fine until we reached the large mammal taxidermy cupboards at the far end of the stores.

On opening the storage cupboard, it was immediately evident that this was the source of the increased activity. While most of the smaller items had been bagged up during the audit, the larger items were too large for the sheets of plastic we had had available. Unfortunately, this meant that the large specimens were the ones that had been found by some intrepid moth and beetle explorers and their offspring had set about devouring their fur. The bases of two specimens (roe deer and reindeer) were both covered with cut strands of fur, and our unfortunate goat now has bald fore legs up to the ankles.

Thankfully, due to the close monitoring of pests and the collections team at the Booth following up on the advice, we found the damage before it became too pronounced. The large items were wrapped in newly acquired large sheets of plastic, and the entire cupboards contents were shifted to our large walk in freezer at Preston Manor, purchased for just such an infestation. The cupboards were sprayed down with an insecticide, and plans are in progress to create tyvek tents in these stores to further reduce the chances of infestation, and keep these objects available for many more generations of visitors and researchers.

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This work is only possible with donations from the public, especially in the face of falling funding levels. Please do consider donating either during your visit or online here.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences