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    The following table briefly outlines the insects that are likely to be a problem for heritage collections and what materials they are likely to eat.

    Type of Insect What They Eat in Your Collection Life Cycle
    Common or Webbing clothes moths and Casemaking clothes moths: Wool, feathers, fur, hair, silk, paper, dust and dead insects. Most damage done to textiles soiled with food, perspiration, oils etc. Larvae is the damaging stage. Prefer darkness. 3 – 6 months
    Cigarette and Drugstore beetles: Plant and animal based materials, including leather, textiles, books and photographs. 2 – 7months
    Spider beetles: General scavengers, eat plant and animal based materials, including books. 3 – 12 months
    Carpet beetles: Wool, fur, hair, feathers, silk, insect specimens, books, and other products of animal origin, such as leather and horn. Larvae is the damaging stage. 9 – 12 months
    Common Furniture beetle: Prefer timbers with a high moisture content. Eggs laid on timber surface or near previous exit holes; larvae hatch and immediately tunnel into wood; adults chew their way out in spring. 1 – 3 years
    Cockroaches: Will eat just about anything including leather, hair, skins, paper and books. They also cause damage through regurgitation or by gluing their egg cases onto objects. 1 month
    Termites: Timber. Termite damage can be extensive if left undisturbed or if not discovered. Dry wood termites will infest small pieces of timber and are easily transported in artefacts, such as wooden carvings. Some species of termites can also attack other cellulose materials such as paper. Can live up to 25 years
    Psocids – booklice: Feed mostly on mould growing on books, papers or even dead insects. They may also damage the surface of materials. 1 – 4 months
    Silverfish: Paper and fabrics – starched or stained material especially, cotton, linen, photographs, book bindings and paste, cardboard boxes and wallpaper. 6 – 36 months. Adults can live up to 8 years

    (Acknowledgement: a version of this table previously appeared in reCollections, produced by the Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. See Acknowledgements page for more information.)


    An informative Australian website can be found at
    This is a very informative site, from which you can find lots of up to date Australian information. Do not be misled by the title, it is not just about termites. There are links to the CSIRO and other sites with a range of information about all the pests commonly found in Australia, and how these are best dealt with.

    An informative website hosted by a USA-based commercial pest control company is located at

    The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences also has an informative site, at
    This site gives particularly useful information on pest control and prevention measures. You can also search a list of fact sheets for pest information.

    All sites have good quality images of, and life cycle information about, a range of common pests.

    Other Pests

    As well as the obvious health and sanitation concerns, mice, rats and birds can also damage your collections. This can be direct damage through feeding and gnawing on materials, and through stains from their droppings. Or, they can lead to damage indirectly, such as encouraging other insects by providing food and nesting material. Rodents commonly chew through electrical cables, presenting a very real fire risk.

    Try to learn which pests are more likely to invade your collection and those pests that pose a particular threat to your collection. For example, if you manage a mineral and gemmological collection, the important documentation labels are at risk of damage through silverfish infestation, even though the specimens themselves may not be susceptible to insect attack. If you manage a textile collection, items will be highly susceptible to a wide range of pest infestation, especially moths and silverfish.

    Understanding the conditions that predispose your collection to risks is also half the battle. For example, psocids or book lice are usually found only where there are moist conditions. If your library, archive or manuscript collection shows signs of infestation by book lice, you can be pretty certain that you have a moisture problem, so you should check for faulty plumbing, leaks or rising damp.

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