Fun Facts About Museum Pests - Part 1

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Fun Facts About Museum Pests - Part 1

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | October 20, 2020

Not many people go into museum work because they love insects, but pest management is one of the most important tasks you can do to protect your collection. Common museum pests can wreak havoc before you know it, and they affect everyone - from your wool sweater collection at home to the pristine store rooms of a national museum. Today let’s learn some fun facts about the common clothes moth.

Webbing clothes moth: larva, pupa and adult on wool.
Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series,
  • Clothes moths come in two major types: the casemaking clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth. They look similar but the webbing moth larvae creates patches of silken webbing to protect itself while it munches on your collection, while the casemaking moth creates a small tubular case.
  • Clothes moths are only about half an inch long.
  • Adults will lay about 40-50 eggs, which are too small to easily spot on an object. The larvae look like little white caterpillars.
  • Only the larvae will cause damage to your collection, but it’s easier to spot and trap the adults. You can buy clothes moth pheromone traps to easily monitor for them.
  • These pests feed exclusively on animal-based materials like wool, fur, silk, feathers, taxidermy, and leather.
  • Some warning signs to look for include webbing or silken cases on objects, and shedding fur as the larvae eat along where it connects to the skin.
  • Moths also leave behind a fecal material called frass, which looks a lot like sand. Moth frass is the same color as the material they are eating, so it can sometimes be quite colorful.
  • Moth larvae don’t like light, so you can often find evidence of their presence in folds, cuffs, and crevices on objects.

The first step to protecting your collection from museum pests is learning how to identify them and spot damage before it gets out of control.

More Resources

Casemaking Clothes Moth
Webbing Clothes Moth
Entomology: Clothes Moths
Identifying Museum Insect Pest Damage
Museum Pests e-learning tool
Insect Pests in Museums Identification Poster