Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Insect Stoicism

Do I talk about bugs too much on this blog? I really want to do a post about bugs this week, but for some reason I feel like it is overdone. Well I'm going to go ahead anyway.


It struck me this week that you have to have a very specific reaction to bugs in order to be a museum collections person. First of all, you can't have compassion for them. If you are the kind of person who likes to trap spiders and carefully escort them outside, collections work is going to be tough. In grad school, during a lecture about deep-freezing a carpet beetle infested textile, someone piped up and asked if there wasn't some more humane way that didn't involve killing the bugs.

Look, I'm not some big advocate of DDT who wants to see all insects eradicated from earth. 'Cause, you know, ecosystems and circle of life and such. But when bugs are feeding on a wool textile, there just isn't a way to, like, ask nicely if they would leave.

But on the other hand, you can't be squeamish about bugs. If you HATE all things that creep and crawl  and are more like to to scream and run when encountering insects, collections work is probably not the gig for you.

This week Betsy and I tried to get our Integrated Pest Management plan in order (IPM for short). IPM is a big part of many collections jobs. What you are supposed to do is strategically place sticky traps around your space (aka "blunder" traps which don't lure with food or pheromones, but just try to catch whoever is walking past), change them periodically, identify all the bugs you catch, and keep the data of what you are finding. No matter how clean and sealed your collections space is there WILL be bugs. If you monitor though, you know if you are getting any bad bugs, and can keep track of what kinds of things you get seasonally.

In other words, you have to be totally ok with spending some serious quality time with dead bugs.

And in MOHAI's case it also means you get to spend some quality time with what may be the single oldest laptop continually in use in the city of Seattle.

Now upgraded to Windows 2000!

We use it because it runs an old CD-ROM program that connects to a microscope. You can see the image on the screen, take snapshots, and download them to a USB. The laptop is a little wheezy but it works fine and the program is actually pretty cool.

It turns out that in order to be a great collections manager, your approach to bugs has to be that of a fourth grader. You have to be inquisitive, slightly sadistic, and thrilled by the gross-out factor. Seeing little specks get blown up into six-legged creatures on screen tapped into the "Whoa! Cool!" science side of me. I mean, just check out these pics:


I really like this pic of two spiders hanging out with a millipede

This is maybe a beetle locked in the death snare of a spider

Let's look closer:

I have to admit though, it was hard not to get just a little creeped out sometimes by all these multi-legged beasts appearing so big on a computer screen. The best part was when Betsy and I were quietly considering a section of the trap when one of the bugs STARTED MOVING. 

We screamed and jumped back. I guess not everything was fully dead, and the heat from the microscope light sort of woke it up. Kristin was back in her corner laughing at us, and then came over to look too. We found the spot and then all had a super girly EWWWWWWWW GROSS moment before stoically resuming our work. 

No comments:

Post a Comment