A carpet beetle infestation can cause a great deal of damage to organic artifacts like leather, wool, cotton, fur and preserved animal specimens. They spread quickly and are difficult to get rid of.
The best course of action is, of course, prevention. But how do you know you have carpet beetles? And what should you do if you find them? Read on to learn more.
Carpet Beetle Lifecycle
It is the carpet beetle larvae that cause all the damage. Carpet beetles seek out dark, undisturbed places to lay their eggs. A remote corner of your collection storage area would be a perfect place to raise their young.
The carpet beetle lays her eggs in wool, leather, fur, etc. so when they hatch they have an abundant food source. The larvae will feast on the material around them, eating through your precious artifacts.
Adult carpet beetles prefer sunlight and do not feed on fabrics. Instead, they are attracted to pollen and nectar. They usually enter a building on fresh cut flowers or hitch a ride on furniture or other artifacts.
It can be difficult to determine whether the damage has been caused by clothes moths or carpet beetles. Generally speaking, carpet beetles cause large areas of damage, while clothes moths chew smaller holes scattered all over a garment.
The best evidence is what gets left behind. Carpet beetle larvae leave skin casings and white fecal pellets that resemble grains of salt.
Getting Rid of Carpet Beetles
An Integrated Pest Management system includes regular observation of collections storage areas. Monitor sticky traps at scheduled intervals. Any evidence of carpet beetles should be immediately reported to your exterminator.
An artifact with a serious infestation will likely need to be removed from the collection. The damage caused by the carpet beetles will probably make it unsuitable for exhibition and beyond any conservation work. Minor damage can sometimes be repaired, but it is important to eradicate any residual eggs and/or larvae before reintroducing the artifact into the collection.
Cleaning the area of the infestation thoroughly may be enough to contain it. But particularly severe infestations must be treated with insecticide. Consult a professional exterminator and conservator before treating any artifact.
Prevention is the best medicine when dealing with carpet beetles. Regularly inspect collection storage areas and thoroughly examine any new acquisitions for problems. Clean storage areas often and do not permit anyone to eat or drink in designated collections areas, including offices and workspaces.
For carpet beetles, finding a collection of animal specimens is like hitting the jackpot. These artifacts should be periodically put in a freezer for 10-14 days to kill carpet beetles in all life stages.
For more information on conservation matters, I suggest the following book: