Update 27/10/21: the Insect and Discovery galleries are now open again following this conservation work.
One of the challenges of caring for a Natural History collection is that it is very edible!
Museum Beetles and their larvae – which are known as woolly bears – and case-bearing moths such as clothes moths and carpet moths will devour other species of moth, butterfly and bugs. They eat these insects from the inside, and can be unnoticed until clear signs of damage are visible. They also eat mammal fur and feathers. This is why we ask people not to eat or drink in the museum. Pests are attracted to the crumbs dropped, and once they have eaten these they turn to our collections as an equally tasty meal.
To stop pests from destroying everything we keep as much of the collection as possible sealed in bags & boxes inside cabinets, but this is not always enough. Warmer winters mean that we are seeing more pest activity all year round. So while the museum was closed we took the opportunity to roll out a big conservation project to check each piece of taxidermy, and proactively treat it. This involves wrapping each item carefully – sometimes in custom made protective structures and freezing it for two weeks at -20 degrees. We have completed treatment of all our large animals including a kangaroo, emu, peacocks, golden eagles and a thresher shark, and are now working on the smaller items such as humming birds, parrots and birds of paradise.
To enable us to continue this work the insect and discovery galleries will be temporarily closed to the public so that we can use them as a workspace. When the doors are open staff will be happy to talk about what they are doing and show you some of the objects normally in store.
Sarah Wilson, Development & Operations Manager – Booth Museum of Natural History