This month, we chat with Pat Kelley, BCE, president of Insects Limited. He explains how his Westfield, Ind.-based company helps museums across the globe identify, treat for and prevent pests using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
1. In March, your company teamed with the MuseumPests Working Group to offer “IPM in Museums, Historic Houses and Archives,” a two-day workshop for museum professionals and pest management professionals (PMPs). It took place before the MuseumPests Working Group’s annual meeting. How did this partnership come about?
MuseumPests is a U.S.-based organization with global ties that creates and updates the website MuseumPests.net, which offers free resources for museums on pest prevention, monitoring, identification and solutions.
My direct involvement with this group over the past 15 years — including chairing its “Identification” subgroup — eventually led to me being the host.
2. At the workshop, there were 15 museum professionals and one PMP. Were most of the attendees used to working with a pest management firm for their facility’s pest control needs, or was there education to be had on that side of it, too?
Most institutions have some type of pest management contract with an outside professional company. With that being said, the staff of the museum ultimately is responsible for the protection of our cultural heritage objects. They want to play a direct role in any and every pest treatment or prevention plan. Museum pest management is so specialized in the different types of pests that can attack museum objects, how security is handled, and what types of treatment are accepted or not accepted, that we set aside time to educate both sides on how to approach this task.
3. You and Museum Conservator Rachael Arenstein covered a lot of ground in two days. In your interactions with attendees, did you find anything surprising or unusual?
Destruction of museum objects caused by clothes moths (Tineidae) and carpet beetles are by far the most common stories we hear. Clothes moths in particular have risen to great prominence in the U.S. in the past decade. David Pinniger, an IPM specialist in the UK, shared his story of how clothes moths destroyed the last remaining skin and feathers of the now-extinct dodo. The remains of the bird were hidden in a display case in the museum beneath an artistic rendering of how the bird may have looked when it was alive. When the museum staff opened the case after several years to do some cleaning, there was nothing left of the specimen except the bones.
Another story that has stuck with me for many years was shared by Elénore Kissel, a conservator in Paris. She was working in Tibet with Tibetan monks. Their task was to try to save some ancient tapestries from destruction by carpet beetles. The monks’ religious view of reincarnation left them uncomfortable with physically killing the beetle larvae and adults on the tapestry, so they spent several weeks removing each insect by hand with tweezers and releasing them far away from the monastery each night.
4. Are there plans to offer this workshop again?
Rachael and I put on several workshops each year, including some that are aimed at PMPs. I recommend PMPs sign up for our Fumigants & Pheromones newsletter, or check online at InsectsLimited.com to keep an eye out for upcoming workshops.
5. Is protecting museums from pest infestations rewarding work?
Definitely. In a world of so much conflict and sorrow, museums and other institutions that display our cultural heritage bring great joy to large numbers of the public. From an educational standpoint, there are things in the history of mankind — good and bad — that should not be forgotten. If we continue to allow pests to take those things away from us, like they’ve already done with the dodo, we ourselves are a lesser species for it.