Collection Care Diaries: Moths and Carpets

In today’s post, Vicky is sharing more adventures in Insect Pest Management. Previously, we shared the story of combatting a moth infestation in our large textile store. Today, we will see what happens when the moths are in the fabric of the building itself.

In early September last year, our cleaner Pam alerted us to some moth activity in the carpet covering a ramp in one of our galleries. She had seen several adult moths fluttering above the carpet. Clothes moth larvae are a danger to our collections, as they feed on wool, silk, and other natural fibres such as feathers and hair.

The immediate answer was to spray the carpet with an insecticide. Two types of traps were put out around the area; pheromone traps to catch adult male moths, and sticky traps on the ground to catch any larvae that might blunder across them.

Some of the traps laid in order to capture any insect pests.

Shortly after being sprayed with insecticide, the larvae in the carpet started emerging onto the surface, and we could see that the infestation was quite severe. As this number of moth larvae potentially hatching inside the gallery would pose a significant threat to the collection, the decision was taken between Ann, our collections care manager; and Luke, our buildings and operations manager, to remove the carpet.

A larva on the surface of the carpet.

Before removing the carpet, Luke tested a small number of fibres from it, which showed that it was 100% wool: very tasty for moths. This carpet has been in the gallery since the 1960s renovation, which raises the question of why it has taken so long for the moths to decide to eat it for lunch. Once again, it comes down to the Coronavirus lockdown: months of closure, a quiet, dark space, and no Insect Pest Management checks. Even once the gallery had opened, visitor numbers have been vastly reduced due to social distancing. Before Covid, activities for children were frequently held in the gallery, meaning pushchairs and excited toddlers were using the ramp regularly; activity that would inhibit any moth activity. But as we have been looking to reintroduce these activities in a safe manner, they have mostly taken place outside, leaving the gallery spaces much quieter. These circumstances have allowed the moths to flourish.

The ramp after the carpet had been taken up.

Another of our galleries has a ramp covered in the same wool carpet. Again the decision was taken to remove it, in case the moths disturbed by the removal of the first carpet decided to set up a new home in this gallery space. Both ramps have now been fitted with carpets made of synthetic fibres.

The ramps have now been carpeted with synthetic fibres.

Wool carpets are a wonderful choice for the home, where they will be walked over frequently enough to prevent moth activity. They are hardwearing, as evidenced by the examples in our galleries which still looked smart after sixty years of use. It is renewable, biodegradable and has many other benefits. However, to ensure the safety of museum collections, a synthetic fibre is preferable in a gallery setting. By reducing the opportunities for insect pests to make the gallery home, we can help to protect our collections for the future.


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