Butterflies in the stomach

Every famous explorer worth his or her salt brought back natural specimens from their journeys. This practice historically created most of the modern natural history museums, enriching their collections with every cargo.

These museums of a very particular kind are research driven facilities keen on trying to understand the world around us and sometimes keepers of the last remnants of extinct species.

I’m looking at you, T-Rex.

Who could believe that those venerable treasures, quietly sitting on shelves, are still prey to numerous predators ?

Specifically, juvenile keratin-eating monsters as ravenous as they are tiny ?

Juvenile keratin-eating monster, Anthrenus scrophulariae larva.
Mom of the juvenile keratin-eating monster, Anthrenus scrophulariae adult.

Carpet beetles and their evil spawns are a curator’s nightmare, along with accountants, and a conservator’s dread.

« Carpet beetle » is a generic term often used in museums that could refer to different species with similar eating habits such as Anthrenus scrophulariae, Anthrenus verbasci or, but sadly not limited to, Attagenus megatoma.
Larvae from these species can prey on furs, wool, feathers, horns or insect’s exoskeletons : everything containing keratin or chitin is basically fair game. Leathers and everything containing animal-based glues can fall under Dermestes maculatus or Dermestes lardarius eager mandibles.
Natural history museum’s collections, particularly entomological ones, are among the most vulnerable ones. Attacks are as brutal and swift as they are discreet and irreversible.

Though it is possible to take urgent measures to stop an attack while it’s going on, damage done is done and the only true countermeasure is prevention !

Look at your collections as often as you can to make sure no tiny hairy larva of a few millimetres long is feasting on your treasures. Dust and clean very regularly. Isolate any suspicious one and quarantine every newcomer. The most efficient actions are the most simple ones.


Opening photo of blue butterfly on leaves by Ashley Rich

Larva photo by Arnoldius – Own work

Anthrenus scrophluariae photo by Kurt Kulac

Curated specimen photos by author.

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