Summer 2013: Revenge of the Fleas, Part 2–Mothra Attacks!

Now that the fleas from Part 1 of this post are “all gone, all dead and gone” (Cat Ballou quote there for those who missed it), we turn the attention of our tale to the museum world.

As I have mentioned before, I work at a local history museum that recently completed a move of all of its artifacts from three locations to one new one. During the move, I began to work heavily with our textile collection, including packing and unpacking clothing that was stored hanging on racks with a piece of muslin thrown over them. After finding serious amounts of bug “debris” under the clothing, we decided to freeze the costumes (at least 60 racks-worth, not including a lot of boxes and rolled textiles). Freezing is good for killing creepy crawly things, but then there is the long task of going through each garment and checking for pests and vacuuming them. This is going to take us quite a while to accomplish. My goal is to at least finish vacuuming all of the rugs before I leave the museum when my contract expires at the end of November.

Needless to say, we have been doing our utmost to prevent pests from entering the collections storage space. However, as I’ve been freezing smaller boxes in our freezer (it has a sign specifying it is for “IPM Use Only” (that’s Integrated Pest Management), so no frozen food allowed), this post-it caused my heart to stop for a moment:

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This note was found on a plastic bag *ACK!* with a gorgeous red 1930s dress inside of it. After consulting our records, it seemed that someone had left that note on the bag and dumped it on the shelf for over ten years *DOUBLE ACK!* So when the two weeks of freezing were up, I was obviously rather trepidatious to look over the dress to see what kind of monster was lying dead inside of it. After careful examination, I found…nothing. Absolutely nothing. No bugs, no pests, no casings, not even holes in the dress. Though I was relieved, I was actually a bit disappointed as well after all of that setup. However, the worst was yet to come.

In general, pests are not our friends in the museum world, but some are worse than others. For example, while we (especially I) don’t like spiders, they don’t eat the artifacts, and in fact will eat the other bugs that do eat the artifacts. Carpet beetles and moths (specifically they’re respective larvae) are much more of an issue, as they are voracious eaters of woven materials. We have found many carpet beetle casings in our vacuuming escapades, but nothing remotely alive (or recently dead). So it came as a complete surprise one afternoon when I was putting hats on a shelf and looked down to find a moth sitting calmly next to a hat. I knew I didn’t want to squish the intruder; rather, I wanted to capture it alive to question it on how it made it through all of our security checkpoints and if it had brought any friends with it. Well, no, not really, but I did want to be able to identify the species so we could set out the appropriate moth traps. A roll of packing tape and a box of labels proved to be an adequate moth containment system. I quickly found my coworkers and explained the situation. This was the general reaction:

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In the end, we ended up killing Mothra, who tried valiantly to escape from his packing tape and box entrapment. The next two days were spent fervently repacking hundreds upon hundreds of hats (which I had just finished unpacking) because they had not undergone the freezing process.

Long story short, we’ve seen a couple of moths since the initial Mothra incident, usually about once a month. It’s strange, because not all of them have been ones that are considered to be textile pests; rather they are the typical large grey ones you find outside at night. One unexpected bonus for me is that I’ve become the go-to pest identification person. I’m getting good at telling the difference between a webbing clothes moth and a casemaking clothes moth. This has been quite an interesting experience, and only time will tell if all of our hard work in prevention and containment in pest management will pay off.

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Summer 2013: Revenge of the Fleas, Part 1

For the past several months, I’ve been keeping a running list on my iPhone of things to blog about. Some of them don’t make sense any more (“Think of the leftovers”?). However, at the very top of the list is a single word: Fleas.

I seriously hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this, but here goes. You may recall last October that we had a bit of a flea problem in our furry-pet-free apartment. We managed to eliminate them last year, though we never came to a definite conclusion as to where they came from. Fast forward to May 2013. I wake up one day and notice bites on my legs. Not again! I moan. However, this time it’s a little different. I seem to be getting bit when I’m on the couch or out on the deck, rather that in other parts of the apartment (Hubby was actually getting bit as well this time too). Odd. I got extremely frustrated, to the point of writing a song about the experience, set to the tune of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables for I was miserable (Author’s note: this was written very late one night while hyped up on Benadryl. No attempts at editing or rhyming has been made. You have been warned.):

I dreamed a dream there were no fleas
That my skin was smooth and silky
I dreamed the fleas were never here
Cause they breed like tiny tribbles

But the fleas come at night
With their mandibles sharp as knives
As they tear my flesh apart
As they turn my legs to itchiness

I don’t have any dogs of any breed
Or cats or rats or hamsters
I only have frogs and snails and fish
So where do the fleas exist?!?

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different from this life of fleas
Now fleas have killed my dreams

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Let’s backtrack a month. In April, we had another pair (or the same pair from last year, we’re not sure) of house finches build a nest in our hanging fuchsia plant on our deck. By the time we noticed the nest, they had already started laying eggs, so we let them continue. After they were done and the fledglings had flown the coop, we put up netting around the plant. While the fledglings were cute and all, it was a major nuisance to have them there dive-bombing at us whenever we stepped outside. We couldn’t use our deck at all, no grilling, nothing. And the 4am cheeping feedings were disrupting our sleep cycles. Hence the netting to prevent future bird couples from using the fuchsia. Or so we thought. House finches are smart birds! They managed to find the seams in the netting and made their way in and started building a new nest. Oy! I gave the birds a stern talking to and told them to pretend a hurricane just happened and blew their plant away as I got rid of their empty nest and brought the plant indoors for a few weeks.

Okay, back to May. Hubby said he thought he saw some bugs around the fuchsia on the floor of the living room. After a conversation with my Aunt, I came to realize that we had bird fleas, which can live in nests. Ah hah! That explained why they were in the living room and on the deck. After thoroughly scouring the apartment with flea spray a couple of times (ours is a peppermint/nutmeg spray that makes everything smell like Christmas), we are finally flea-free for the time being.

Lesson learned: don’t bring plants that had nests in them inside!

Oh, and that giant dog from upstairs that I still believe was the source of the fleas last year? It just moved out 🙂