A Brief Introduction to Insect Pests

Next to improper handling, the most common cause of damage to textiles and bone or fur objects is probably insect infestations. Clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish are the major villains. Cockroaches are in themselves a lesser threat, but dead cockroaches and other dead insects can attract dermestids (see the section on beetles). Insect damage to an object can range from a few almost invisible holes to it's complete destruction. The more common unwanted insect visitors have been profiled on their own pages.

Prevention And Detection

Mothballs and Moth Flakes


Mothballs (paradichlorobenzine) and moth flakes (napthalene) are the most familiar moth repellents. Their scent will also repel rodents such as mice. However as a method of killing insect pests, they are not effective in an open environment. Moth balls and flakes are most effective when used in a closed environment such as a closet that is not in day to day use.

The use of poison baits and fumigation are to be avoided if possible.

Poisons and fumigation are not generally environmentaly sound and any fumigation procedure likely to be worthwhile must be done by a licenced pest control specialist.

Sticky Traps

Sticky traps are effective against crawling insects such as beetles, silverfish and cockroaches. Special moth traps are availible, these are usually hung in collections storage areas and baited with a pheromone attractant. They are relatively expensive however. Multiple traps should be numbered and all traps must be inspected regularly, not only to gauge the presence or level of an infestation, but because dead insects are an attractant to other pests. Traps are not a true method of controlling an infestation, but will indicate the existance of a problem. With time, sticky traps will loose their effectiveness, the adhesive may dry out or be covered with dust or lint. Replace as required.


Sticky traps are inexpensive and usually can be obtained from large hardware stores.


Traps can be placed out of sight, but they must be easily accessable for inspection. The best locations are along baseboards, in closets or under raised floor racks. They should be placed near doors or air vents. The brown streak in the center of the illustrated trap is a food scent attractant.


The BioLure moth trap is suspended in the storage area. It employs a pheromone attractant and is very effective.


Freezing is a very effective method of destroying all stages of insects in an infested artifact. Freezing an artifact at -20C (-5F) for 7 to 10 days will kill any of the major insect pests at any stage of development. An ordinary household refrigerator freezer compartment will not normally reach a low enough temperature to kill an infestation. A chest type deep freezer is effective, preferably one that is not a "frost free" and is not used to hold foodstuffs. Other family members may not appreciate "dirty bug infested hats" along side the frozen pizza.

Handle frozen artifacts with care, to prevent cracking.


Artifacts to be frozen must be dry. They should be sealed individually in a ziplock bag or bag sealed with a twist-tie. As much air as possible should be removed from the bag. If any metal is part of the object to be frozen an absorbant such as a clean cotton rag that is of the same RH as the object should be placed in the bag. A tag should be enclosed marked with the date it was frozen. The artifact should be frozen as quickly as possible. Keep a list of artifacts and the date of freezing on the door of the freezer. After the desired amount of freezing, the bag should be removed unopened and allowed to warm up to room temperature. Remove the artifact from the bag and vacume or pick out any insect remains.

Preventative Conservation Measures

Damage to artifacts by insects can be avoided or minimised by:
1.A detailed inspection of the artifact immediately upon acquisition.
2.Frequent inspection of the collection or display areas.
3.Immediate response to suspected infestations.
4.Placement and frequent inspection of monitor traps.
5.Good housekeeping procedures.

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