Collections of the Pass: An Infestation


It's been a busy couple of months in Collections at the museum. I've been neck deep in caring for our textile collection, and it's been a bit of a bumpy road. I blame these little guys:

Known as the webbing clothes moth, these insects can wreak havoc on clothing, especially anything made with fur, feathers, wool, and silk. They managed to get into some of our collections, and it's my job to clean up the mess.

The adult moths (pictured above) aren't technically the problem. They only live for a short time, and they don't even have mouths to feed. It's due to the children that I've spent the last two months armed with a vacuum. Moth larvae weave themselves a protective blanket of silk under which they feast, sometimes for years, on such delicacies as wool, silk, or fur.

Even after they've gone, they leave behind remnants of white, silky cocoons and lots and lots of tiny pellets of larvae poop, which is usually a similar colour as the material they've been eating.

The impact on our collections depends a lot on what the items are made of. Wool clothing, such as that pictured above, will at most have small holes where larvae have eaten through. More often there is what we call "grazing": the slightly fluffier outer layer of the wool is eaten off. There is damage, but the items still essentially look like they should.

Fur is a different matter altogether. These are Canadian moths; they like to stay warm, and they loved fur. When larvae graze in fur, they chomp through the hairs, leaving behind a mess of loose fur, poop, and silk that is about as disgusting as you can imagine.

So what does the collections intern do when faced with a problem such as this one? I've mentioned one tool, the vacuum, but it's a bit more complicated than that. Read my next post to find out more about what I've been doing to clean up the mess that's been made, and to ensure that this infestation is at an end.


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