Exhibiting an intolerance for pests

URBANA — Christa Deacy-Quinn is using a portable thermal tent that heats up to 140 degrees, enough to fry even the hardiest of insects.

She is the collections manager at the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois, and she looks for bug poop, unexpected holes or other signs of infestation that could endanger exhibits — items she can't put a price tag on.

This week, she was putting baskets from storage into the tent for four hours. Only 5 percent of Spurlock's more than 40,000 items are on display at any one time.

Deacy-Quinn has been at Spurlock since 1991, and she wants people to know a dirty secret of the pristine museum world — without action, nature will take a bite out of it.

In 2012, the museum became the first in the country to earn Green Shield Certification in integrated pest management, which includes preventive measures.

That includes temperature/humidity monitoring, mold mitigation, mold spore testing and light-level readings.

A $10,000 grant from the North Central Integrated Pest Management Center pays for the equipment. Treatments will take the museum about a week, and won't harm the artifacts or use dangerous chemicals.

Monitoring is primarily conducted with a system of traps. When pests are spotted, they're collected. The traps are placed in strategic areas to best sample pest populations, according to the museum.

Everybody knows about moths, and most know that the common German cockroach savors the glue that holds books, toys and thingamabobs together.

Hide beetles enjoy a nice dry piece of fur.

Powder post beetles like to eat wooden artifacts.

UI Entomology department head May Berenbaum is well-aware of the ongoing problem Spurlock has with powder post infestation.

She said they're best spotted by the holes that they make burrowing in as larvae.

Both freezing and heating can be effective in attacking powder post beetles — the main concern being not hurting the artifact.

As always, she has a kind word for the beetles.

"They are admirers of seasoned wood, and they appreciate antiques," she said.

(Potentially) tasty but valuable artifacts

The Spurlock Museum doesn't have to worry about insects in some of its valuable artifacts, such as the priceless plaster casts of the Parthenon made before the ancient wonder was vandalized.

However, if it was once wood, hair, reed or leather, tiny evil creatures might make a meal of it. Here are three valuable emperiled objects:

1. Tipi (teepee) from Moose, Wyo., on north side of first floor. The portable dwelling of Plains Indians, it was designed to withstand harsh weather on the Great Plains. But it was made of cotton and other natural materials, and Spurlock keeps an eagle eye on it.

2. Barong ket. Originally described as a dragon, it's a mythical lion made to look especially scary, from the island of Bali in Indonesia. With lots of goat hair, feathers and leather, let's hope it can scare off hungry insects. Spurlock workers also have to hand-polish the countless mirrors on it.

3. A bombo, an Afro-Colombian drum from Colombia, made of hide, cotton and wood. The drum is on loan from an anthropology professor.

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