Pest Management for Exhibit Areas

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It is critical that the exhibit construction process does not introduce insects or rodents. Good design and a Pest Management Plan lower the potential for infestation once the exhibit opens to the public

What types of pest are problematic and what are the signs of a problem?

Insects, rodents, and molds each constitute a threat to museum collections, especially to organic materials.

  • Insects: clothes moths, carpet and other dermestid beetles, powderpost beetles and termites, silverfish, cockroaches and flies. Eggs are smaller than a pin head and remain viable for
  • over a year; a few eggs can quickly lead to a full scale infestation. The juvenile larvae stage of most insects feed on organic collection material. Adults laying eggs are attracted to dust, food deposits, and damp, warm locations. Insects can pass through gaps larger than .3mm.
  • Rodents: mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons and other rodents. Most problematic in the spring and fall as they seek shelter. Collection objects may be damaged for their nutritional value, or may be destroyed for nesting material or gnawed to control growth of teeth. Their entrance may be through openings in the roof, walls or floor.
  • Molds: a range of microspores grow on any organic material. In general, molds and mildews require relative humidity above 65%, stagnant air, and warm temperatures. Moist materials also support mold growth.

Common signs of an insect infestation include:

  • small holes in objects;
  • the actual presence of any of the four life stages;
  • fine, sandy excrement, called frass, often the color of the material the larvae is feeding on;
  • cocoon-like webbing indicating the presence of clothes moths;
  • loss of surface, caused as beetles "graze" along the top of leather and textile components.


How can a Pest Management Strategy be applied to exhibitions?

An Integrated Insect Management Program helps prevent an infestation, identifies a problem before it becomes large-scale, and uses the least invasive technique to eradicate pests when an infestation does occur.

General points to follow include:

  1. Inspect all items for pests before bringing them into the museum building; including construction materials, prop materials and traveling displays.
  2. Limit access of insects and rodents into exhibit areas by closing gaps with silicon gasket weather-stripping or a silicon corking compound.
  3. Monitor for signs of infestation; use insect traps and visual spot checks to monitor exhibit areas. Record evidence and any actions taken on the sample form provided in this TechNote.
  4. Maintain relative humidity levels below 65% and temperature below 75°F. Do not bring moist materials into the exhibit (such as plants or green wood).
  5. Vacuum exhibit areas (excluding case interiors) at least twice a month, making sure to reach all crevices, behind furniture and around doors and windows. The use of a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner is recommended.


Specific measures to consider during the exhibit design

  • Locate vulnerable collections inside tightly sealed exhibit cases to prevent ingress of insects.
  • Filter air entering into ventilated cases.
  • Elevate the floor of exhibit cases a few inches above the room's floor to deter insect ingress. Build a solid kick-plate along the bottom edge so that dust cannot accumulate below cases.
  • Construct cases and frames so that internal condensation does not occur.


If active infestation is found, contact a conservator for up-to-date, specific advice. Fumigation of collections should not be undertaken as a matter of routine maintenance. Fumigant chemicals can cause a variety of problems such as corrosion of metals, embrittlement of leathers and alteration of dyes. Current treatments to be discussed with a conservator include eradication by freezing and exposure to gases, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Keep detailed records of any method used, including a list of treated artifacts (see attached Pest Incident Form).


Products, Manufacturers, and Suppliers

Mention of a product, manufacturer, or supplier by name here is for information only and does not constitute an endorsement of that product or supplier. Listed materials have been used successfully in past applications. It is suggested that readers also seek alternate product and vendor information to assess the full range of available supplies and equipment.

Pest Traps
Stiky Strips, Olson Products Inc., Medina, OH 44256