Today, I was asked about bow bugs, insects that destroy the horsehair in a violin bow. The owner of the violin opens the case and finds many broken and missing hairs in the bow. My first thought was, if it eats hair, it might be a Dermestid Beetle. A quick search on line found a note by violin maker, R. DeBey, in Portland, Oregon. He had customers with “bow bug” problems and wanted to know more. DeBey collected cast skins from a customer’s case and sent them to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The samples were identified by Jim Lebonte as Carpet Beetles.
Carpet Beetles prefer dark environments. A closed violin case with horsehair for food as more than adequate. In the natural environment, carpet beetles are known for feeding on the hair of dead animals or hair that has been shed from animals. Carpet beetles fail to distinguish between unnecessary hair shed from an animal and a valuable violin bow.
To prevent damage, the bow is best stored outside the case in the light. If a case is infested, the carpet beetles can be killed by placing a no pest strip in the case and keeping it closed for 24 h. The case can be opened in bright sunlight to air out the pesticide residue. Moth balls (the pesticide paradichlorobenze) will also kill carpet beetles, but it can leave a lingering odor. To prevent the return of carpet beetles, it is recommended to practice often and leave the case open and in bright light when the violin is not stored.