Natural History

Stuffed animal displays contribute to public education about animals and nature. The public can go to a Natural History museum and view mammals in lifelike poses in a natural diorama. These displays are particularly useful for animals that have cryptic habits, are difficult to maintain or view in live zoos and difficult subjects for nature films. Preservation of dead mammals is both art and science. In the decomposition process, the internal organs will rapidly decompose and the exterior of the animal decompose more slowly. In preservation, the rapidly decomposing internal tissues are removed and the skin stuffed to present a lifelike pose. In nature, decomposition of skin and fur is primarily mediated by insects under dry conditions. Preservation of mammals for public view or study requires a dry environment that excludes insects.

Some insects, such as carpet beetles are difficult to exclude from display cases. These beetles can squeeze through the smallest cracks to reach the stuffed animals and resume the decomposition process halted by preservation efforts. A variety of chemicals have been used in the past to deter carpet beetles and other decomposers. However, these chemicals can have other toxic properties and have fallen out of favor, leaving stuffed animals vulnerable.

The Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina, Canada is currently suffering from carpet beetle attack. They prefer a non-chemical approach to beetle control. The beetles are susceptible to freezing. Eliminating the infestation requires bagging the infested stuffed animals and all other food sources. The stuffed animals are groomed, bagged and frozen, a time consuming process that takes the animals out of view until eradication is complete. Carpet beetles are an increasing problem in part because museums are heated to higher temperatures in the winter than in the past. Visitors find the higher temperatures more comfortable. Unfortunately, those visitors include carpet beetles that grow and develop more rapidly in the warmer temperatures.

Varied Carpet Beetle

Varied Carpet Beetle Larva Photo: André Karwath

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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