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Conservation Notes: Zeroing in on a tiny menace

April 9th, 2013

What is this thing?
The specimen in the video above, the larva of a webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella), was discovered in a cardboard box stored on top of a wool carpet in an administrative office. At only 5mm long, webbing clothes moth larvae can be very difficult to detect. The red wool fibres from the carpet — also visible in the video — provided the larva a steady source of food. At this stage in its life cycle, after hatching from an egg, the moth can cause the most damage, because larvae feed on material and produce frass (aka excrement) that will be a colour similar to the material that has been eaten (in this case the red fibre from the carpet).

What’s happening in the video?
Conservators Sherry Phillips and Maria Sullivan collected the larva and viewed it under microscope to identify the specimen, and the carpet was immediately wrapped and sealed to prevent further migration of pests, then placed in a chest freezer to eliminate any other larvae, eggs and adults in the carpet.

Where did it come from?
Moths can find their way into the Gallery on coats, clothing or on other items that staff or visitors carry. New artworks or materials are screened for pests before placement in the galleries or vaults.

So, what’s the big deal?
All galleries and museums need to be vigilant and pro-active in keeping pests under control. The goal of an effective pest-management program is to find and deal with these issues before they affect the collection, and so efforts extend to all areas of the building, not just in the galleries. Larvae can cause extensive damage to artwork made of or containing materials that have protein, such as natural fibres — particularly silk and wool — as well as hides and feathers. AGO staff monitor for pests throughout the building on a weekly basis to identify potential problems, because it is easier to prevent a problem than to deal with an infestation.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


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