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Many of the insect pests found in the Museum are the same as the ones you find at home, such as moths that live in your wardrobe or weevils in your pantry. However, the objects that are stored and displayed in the Museum are irreplaceable, and therefore preventing pests is essential to ensure the longevity of our collections.
Image: Auckland Museum's Famous Five
Not all insects are harmful to our collections. The ‘Famous Five’ are the pests which we are most concerned about as they can cause the most damage to our objects. These are clothes moths, silverfish, borer beetles, dermestid beetles and rodents.
You'll know clothes moths as the reason you have holes in your woolly jumpers and they are likewise one of the biggest problems in museums across the world. They feed on feathers, wool, hair, fur and animal protein.
The insect group that silverfish belong to has been around for more than 400 million years. They enjoy cool, moist conditions and feed on starch from paper, so understandably have a particular fondness for our Documentary Heritage collections!
Borer beetles, specifically the common furniture beetle, bore into wood when they are in the larval stage. This creates holes and tunnels which weaken the wood - you might have seen the damage from borer beetles in the floorboards of old homes.
Image: Binding of a book damanged by silverfish
Dermestids are a family of beetles with over 700 species worldwide, including the carpet beetle and the museum nuisance beetle.
Dermestid larvae are hugely destructive, feeding on skin, hooves, hair, dried flesh, fungi, insects and any fabric that is animal in origin, such as wool.
Rodent infestations can be very damaging to museums as rodents shred and nest in objects, and can be difficult to control as they breed rapidly.
Image: A before and after of an Apteryx mantelli that succumbed to a dermestid larvae attack; LB8439
To get on top of pests, you must think like a pest! Insects thrive in warm, humid conditions and love food, so it is important that we make the Museum as unattractive as we can to pests so we don’t invite them in. To do this, we ensure all our windows are sealed.
We also reduce the temperature and humidity so it is too cool and dry for many of the most dangerous pests to survive. The Museum is also kept clean and dust free, and we don’t allow eating and drinking in our galleries, store rooms, and many office spaces.
This approach to dealing with pests is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a widely used approach in museums throughout the world. It seeks to understand what pests are attracted to, their habits and life cycles.
Image: Collection Manager Georgia Brockhurst inspecting an insect sticky trap from a collection store
To monitor the Museum for pests, we have hundreds of sticky blunder traps and rodent stations throughout the building. These are checked monthly and any insects are identified and recorded, often with the help of the Entomology Curator. We also have strict guidelines for any objects or any other delivery coming into the museum. All objects are either visually inspected, put throught the blast freezer, or submitted to an anoxic treatment.
We also have a pest control committee called the Bug Busters who are always on the lookout for pests around the Museum.
Image: The 'museum nuisance beetle' or reesa vespulae is particularly destructive as they reproduce through parthenogenesis (meaning there are only females and they can lay eggs without mating).
Preserving our precious taonga and keeping them safe from deterioration is the ultimate goal for the Collection Care department at Auckland Museum. Our biggest tool to keep the collections free from pests is prevention - we want to make sure we don't bring them into the Museum in the first place!
Next time you come to the Museum, have a look to see if you have any hitchhikers on your clothes, and let a staff member know if you see any creepy crawlies (live ones that is!) in the Museum.