Preserving Our History: Pheromones

By Patrick Kelley, ACE

It’s a terrible day when the museum staff member finds evidence of an insect eating away at invaluable and irreplaceable material from their museum collection. Emotions can run high and panic can set in as they try to decide how large the infestation is and where it may be coming from. It is at this critical point, though, that it is best to remain calm and scientifically look at the problem.

Sex pheromones can prove to be a very valuable tool to pinpoint infestation sources in the situation above if the identified pest has a commercially available lure. Unfortunately, I have seen many institutions shy away from using pheromones only because they do not have all of the facts about them or they have been misinformed. Pheromone traps, when used correctly, will not draw unwanted pests into an area being monitored. Here are some facts about pheromones:

The sex pheromone of common museum pests like cigarette beetles, clothes moths, and carpet beetles will only attract the adult male insect. Sex pheromones that mimic the female insect will never attract a reproductive pair, the damaging larval stage, or a female insect with eggs. The strength of the pheromone is generally not strong enough to pull from outside of the space that you are monitoring. Use the following guidelines to help you use pheromones to monitor and locate sources of damaging insect pests.

1. First identify the insect that you would like to monitor.
2. Make sure that the pest you want to monitor for has a viable, commercially available sex pheromone lure.
3. During the monitoring period, keep the doors shut in the storage area that is being monitored. This will keep any and all pests from adjacent storage areas or outdoors from entering.
4. Keep the pheromone lures at least 15 feet (5 m) away from any door that is being opened on a regular basis.                                                                                               5. Set up the traps in a grid pattern and once you start receiving numbers in the traps, adjust their locations to help you pinpoint the source.                                         6. After pinpointing an area of infestation, use your eyes and other resources to locate the specific source.

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