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Bug Day

Figure 1: Richard Identifying a BugMaybe it’s the environment, but around here I’m always obsessing about the littlest things. The other day I devoted eight hours to looking at and learning more about some insects and pests. Needless to say the presence of these things at a museum can lead to big problems for art.

I visited the locally-owned, but world-renown, Insects Limited headquarters to take part in a one-day workshop on museum pest management. Sure I learned about pests in graduate school, but it’s been a while since I studied a bug under a microscope. And to top it off, I had my picture taken by Crista Pack of recent NYT fame.

Some may think that spending a whole day looking at little things that have long Latin names wouldn’t be very cool, but it was for me. Where else am I going to learn about the “Dirty Dozen” of museum pests? To help share my experience and keep my co-workers at the ready, I think I’ll make these Bug Flash Cards and start quizzing anyone I see in the hallway or at lunch. I got those cards from www.museumpests.net, a great pest management resource.

While we rarely see any of these guys at the IMA, we stay on the watch so we can squash a problem before it even starts to get serious (forgive the pun, but you knew it was going to be in here somewhere, didn’t you?).

Figure 2: Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) Photo:Wikipedia Figure 3: Webbing Clothes Moth (Tineola bisselliella) Photo: Wikipedia

Ask anyone who works with a museum collection: the appearance of just one webbing clothes moth, demisted beetle, or wood eating insect is enough to put a whole department on high alert. These insects will eat art and that’s not good for anybody. For every ethnographic object, rug, tapestry, gown, piece of paper, feather, or furniture there’s a bug that will eat it.

To help us make certain we’re doing an excellent job of monitoring for pest, the IMA has Pat Kelley from Insects Limited come to the grounds every month to check the buildings for possible activity. He and I have looked at a number of art objects that showed signs of prior insect activity, carefully taking the time to identify each one that is found. One of his counterparts, Alain VanRyckeghem runs the Insects Limited lab where they are developing pheromones for better insect monitoring. These two guys are pretty much the CSI equivalent of the insect world. I’ve never seen an insect they can’t identify.

On entomological tangent if you like spitting crickets, racing cockroaches, or think bugs are cool, you should join the other 29,999 people that will be attending Purdue University’s Bug Bowl next month.

Filed under: Conservation

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