Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the way any organisation with a collection of potentially vulnerable objects seeks to control pests; often via ecologically-sound means. It’s so important to keep items in the museum in good condition; and IPM is one of the primary routes to achieve this aim. Abby Stevens is the preventative conservator whose job it is to implement the pest management system that is in place in Manchester. Yesterday, I spent some time with Abby going over what IPM at Manchester entailed.
The most common feature of the IPM at Manchester is the ‘Ecotraps’ (see above) but it also involves pheremone traps in sensitive areas, effective cleaning, quarantines (such as freezing: see ‘pesky pests/ life in the freezer’), brushes on the bottom of doors, sensible event planning (e.g. issues to do with food consumption etc.), and even a light spraying of pesticides in very vulnerable areas such as the zoology stores (lots of fur and feathers to munch on!). It also incorporates making sure areas are properly sealed-off as much as possible from the outside world.
The reason that Abby and fellow pest-controllers go to such lengths is exemplified by the rat at the top of the blog: pests can cause servious damage to any collection, but particularly those containing vulnerable materials like paper, fur, and feathers; making natural history collections particularly vulnerable.
The damage that the biscuit or drug store beetle (Stegobium paniceum) can do to herbarium sheets has been discussed previously (see ‘pesky pests/ life in the freezer’); but other pests such as the webbing clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella) (the number one problem at Manchester), case-bearing clothes moths (Tinea pellionella) and carpet beetles (family Dermestidae) can have just as big an effect on things like feather and fur-covered specimens. It’s the larvae in the case of the moths that causes the damage; webbing clothes moths leave behind frass and webbing as a calling-card whilst case-bearing clothes moths leave characteristic white cases ehind once the larva pupates. Failing that you can always see the damage they cause if nothing else. Although sometimes even this is hard to spot! Abby told me about an old desk in the museum which had a hidden felt lining underneath which had been completely eaten away by moths, in a similar way to the unfortunate rat photographed above!
Other creatures like silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), cockroaches (order Blattodea) and flies (order Diptera) can be problematic in large numbers, but are more likely to be indicators of things going awry such as too much damp, poor hygiene, or something rotting away in the corner!
And it’s not just invertebrates; rats, mice, and pigeons can have toxic and environmental concerns; plus when they die their corpses provide food for a variety of other potential pests.
These creatures are all present in the surrounding environment (for example biscuit beetles are often found happily munching away on flowers), but become a problem when they enter into museums because they don’t discriminate between valuable collection material and old rubbish lying around on the floor (nor would we expect them to I suppose!)
Often these problems are exacerbated by hot, humid conditions which speed up the life-cycles of insects and encourage them to breed more quickly. Unfortunately, Manchester doesn’t have the state of the art climate and humidity-controlled stores that I saw at the NHM, but due to the nature of the thick-walled buidlings, most of the stores are relatively cool. Hopefully the hot weather we’ve experienced of late won’t lead to any infestations occurring…!
(NB. A good introduction to IPM can be found in the Collections Trust book by Pinniger, D. (2008) Pest Management- a Practical Guide Cambridge: The Collections Trust.)