Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dear Lord, Let It Be Millipedes

Last Friday, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I was doing my last diaper check before the weekend and noticed a little spot on the white wall. A bug. Then I saw another one. And another. They looked like living versions of the desiccated carcasses we've been pulling out of the costumes from the old storage location. Carpet beetles. I went cold with panic.

[A GIF has not yet been created for this emotion]

I summoned the collections manager to come see. Once we knew what we were looking for we found them everywhere. 

FYI this is the LEAST gross bug picture in this post. You have been warned.

Betsy grabbed as many as she could in a sticky trap and went to work trying to get a good microscope shot and identify them. I went to work with a Kleenex, killing as many as I could find. (If this is upsetting to you, you should probably stop reading now. I find my job has made me pretty compassionless toward the sanctity of bug life).

The first microscope pictures looked like this:

If you google "carpet beetle larva" you will see it didn't look good. 

All last weekend I was sick with worry about this situation. Carpet beetles would be disaster. I couldn't even blog about it-- it was too raw, to painful to joke about yet. On Monday we started getting responses back from the museum pest management listserv and some entomologists we know. A few agreed that it was probably a carpet beetle. But a few others brought up a new possibility…millipedes.

Apparently at this young stage, carpet beetles and millipedes look awfully similar. But millipedes are not a museum pest. Sometimes when it rains a lot they can flee inside (perhaps through a leak in the wall??) but they aren't interested in fabric. Once in a collections storage space they will either die off or leave of their own initiative. 

On Tuesday we decided to take another round of microscope photos. I went and chased down a few of the biggest ones I could find, trying to get them as intact as possible onto the trap. The new round of pictures looked like this: 

Millipedes at a similar stage look like this:


The entomologists also suggested taking a leg count. Any more than six and it can't be a beetle. One was flipped over on the trap, and we are pretty sure that that is a whole bunch of little legs sticking up. 

So why am I telling you this in so much detail and including all these gross pictures that are probably making your skin crawl a little?

Because I am trying to make sense of the fact that my life has taken a turn in which I am genuinely excited about a millipede infestation. Seriously. On Tuesday all I wanted to talk about was millipedes and how I was in a good mood because of millipedes and how it was so exciting that it was millipedes.


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