Preventing specimens from being attacked and damaged by pests is a major challenge of collection management. In collections facilities, the two most common types of pests are insects and fungi.
In the past, pest management usually involved regular applications of toxic chemicals (pesticides or fungicides) to specimens and collection areas. In recent years, however, health and safety concerns have led institutions to move away from this approach in favor of preventative and protective measures that are not based on chemicals. These include upgrades and repairs to building structure; installing better cabinetry; better control of temperature and humidity in collections areas; removing food and other organic materials from collection areas; more effective monitoring; and treatment of outbreaks through freezing or anoxic environments. Using these different measures in combination is known as “integrated pest management.”
Use of Solid Wood Packing Material (SWPM)
Solid Wood Packing Material (SWPM)
SWPM refers to primary wood packing materials such as crates, pallets, packing blocks, drums, cases and skids. SWPM is vulnerable to attack by wood boring insects which, in a collection environment, may cause serious damage to structures, office furniture, artifacts and specimens. For institutions that transport exhibits or large specimens internationally it is essential to be aware of the legal requirements for documentation and treatment of SWPM.
The second part of an IPM plan is monitoring. All buildings have their own ecosystem based on their location and other historic factors. Some pests will always be found inside. Monitoring this ecosystem provides a useful way to determine what species are common in your facility and when conditions might have changed to allow one species to become common enough to present a danger to the collections. Insect traps, such as sticky traps or pheromone traps, are commonly placed throughout collection areas and checked on a regular basis, recording the contents. Pest sightings or an uptick in pest activity should prompt an investigation into potential causes.
If pests are found in traps identification is an important third step. Identification will allow decisions to be made on how potentially damaging the activity may be to the collection. Identifying the pest also aids in ensuring that a proper course of remedial action is chosen.
Elimination is the fourth element of an IPM plan. The use of chemical agents to deal with either routine pest mitigation or more entrenched infestations should be left to professional pest management companies who are trained and licensed in accordance with state regulations and health and safety standards. To deal with infestations at the specimen or collection level the two most common procedures are low-temperature (freezing) or low oxygen (anoxia) treatments.
For More Information on IPM visit www.museumpests.net. This website is a product of the Integrated Pest Management Working Group (IPM-WG) – an ad hoc group of museum professionals (collection managers, entomologists, conservators, etc) – which has put together useful tools for collecting institutions to help them implement and run integrated pest management programs. The IPM-WG is sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History.
IPM and Invertebrate Zoology Collections
Entomology collections are, ironically, extremely vulnerable to pest infestation. Many large collections have been treated in the past with heavy metal pesticides and, in more modern times, with fumigants to ward off invaders but these do not fully protect collections from infestation. Researchers must be aware of the history of pesticide and fumigant use for their own safety (see the section on Residual Pesticides in the Health & Safety section of this site for more information). Tips for keeping invertebrate collections safe from pests include:
IPM and Vertebrate Zoology Collections
Hair and skin of vertebrate zoology collections make them extremely vulnerable to pest infestation. As a result most collections have been treated in the past with pesticides and/or fumigants. Researchers must be aware of the history of their collections for their own safety (see the section on Residual Pesticides in the Health & Safety section of this site for more information). Mammalogy collections do well in cold storage conditions that are inhospitable to pests. Osteological collections too are vulnerable to infestation as the fat/grease in the bone is extremely attractive to insects.
Mothballs and substances such as Vapona® are no longer legal or appropriate treatments for museum collections. If an infestation is suspected, skins, skeletons and full taxidermy mounts can generally be safely frozen which will kill all life stages of a pest infestation (for more on proper freezing procedures visit the Treatment page of the museumpests.net website). [http://www.museumpests.net/treatment.asp] Infestations that cannot be dealt with by freezing should be treated by an appropriate, licensed pest management professional.
IPM and Paleontology Collections
While most fossils are not prone to infestation, pests can affect certain categories of paleontological material (e.g. subfossil bones or mummified specimens) or sometimes the adhesives used on specimens. Pests can cause damage to associated items, such as specimen labels, paper archives, padding materials, or drawers and cabinets. Poor pest management may lead to the paleontology collections becoming a reservoir for pest problems elsewhere in an institution.
IPM and Physical Sciences Collections
As with paleontological specimens, physical science collections are not prone to infestations but should be monitored to ensure that they do not become a breeding ground for infestations that could spread to other more vulnerable areas of an institution. Pests can damage specimen labels, padding, drawers and cabinets that are essential for the proper care of geological collections.
The website of the IPM-Working Group www.museumpests.net was specifically developed to present resources for implementing IPM and treating infestations in museums and other cultural institutions. Resources include the PestList, a listserv for questions relating to IPM, templates for developing IPM policies and procedures, identification and treatment fact sheets and bibliography and web resources.
The National Park Service Conserve-O-Gram series has several documents that deal with IPM including:
Combating Pests of Cultural Property by Tom Strang and Rika Kigawa of The Canadian Conservation Institute has comprehensive information on IPM.
Canadian Conservation Institute Notes offer practical advice about issues and questions related to the care, handling, and storage of cultural objects. Relevant Notes include: