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The fight against moths in a L.A Museum

Fuelled by the first Californian lockdown in March 2020 which saw all museums and galleries close overnight for a prolonged period, an infestation was left to fester and multiply in the Getty Museum in Brentwood, California. The quiet and dark areas made the perfect breeding ground for insects and the vast quantities of antique fabrics and tapestries are a feast for the invader: the webbing clothes moth.

The food source for most species of clothes and carpet moths include silk, wool and any other material which contains traces of Keratin – a substance found in animal hair or skin. The moths seemed to be present throughout the museum, however the items most in danger were those containing antique fabrics such as the upholstered furnishings.

The lockdowns which resulted from COVID-19 wreaked financial havoc on most institutions. The added worries of the development of infestations in these dormant buildings was perhaps not considered but affected most museums globally due to the spaces becoming dark and quiet.

“Spring is mating season in the Northern Hemisphere for pests, and that coincided with buildings closing down, with skeletal or no staff,” Helena Jaeschke, who is a conservator and runs Pest Partners states. “There were no disturbances, like noise or lights, to limit pest activity. It was peak conditions for pests to spread.”

The extended lockdown gave the Getty Museum the opportunity to extensively treat the infestation in order to save the artifacts, a task which took 6,000 hours to complete. The tapestries held in the museum were all frozen to kill all of the lifecycles of the moths as a precaution despite the issue being actioned early.

One of the conservators for decorative arts at the Getty, Jane Bassett explains “Light, insects, humidity and temperature are the most egregious things that cause damage to the art. So it was looking at this as a preventative step.”

Pheromone traps are often used in this museum along with hundreds of other museums in the world to detect any signs of infestations before they get out of hand. These little traps can be placed anywhere in the room and disrupt the breeding cycle by attracting the male to the trap rather than them fertilising the females.

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