Integrated Pest Management

Preventing specimens from being attacked and damaged by pests is a major challenge of collection management. In collections facilities, the two most common types of pests are insects and fungi.

While most fossils are immune to the effects of these organisms, they may have a very destructive impact on certain categories of paleontological material (e.g., subfossil bones, mummified specimens) and can cause damage to associated items, such as specimen labels, paper archives, padding materials, or drawers and cabinets; they may also be attracted to and cause damage to consolidants and adhesives. Finally, poor pest management may lead to the paleontology collections becoming a reservoir for pest problems elsewhere in an institution.

In the past, pest management usually involved regular applications of toxic chemicals (pesticides or fungicides) to specimens and collection areas. In recent years, however, health and safety concerns have led institutions to move away from this approach in favor of preventative and protective measures that are not based on chemicals. These include installing better cabinetry; better control of temperature and humidity in collections areas; removing food and other organic materials from collection areas; upgrades and repairs to building structure; more effective monitoring; and treatment of outbreaks through freezing or anoxic environments. Using these different measures in combination is known as “integrated pest management.”

Objectives for an Institutional IPM Plan
  • To develop collection management practices that are consistent with city, state, and Federal health safety regulations.
  • To foster good communication with other departments responsible for ensuring the success of an IPM Plan (e.g. Facilities Operations and Custodial Services).
  • To facilitate a swift and unified response to pest problems among departments with the understanding that the achievable goal is management; no policy will ever eradicate the pest problem.

What are the Elements of an IPM Plan?

The first, and most fundamental step in integrated pest management is prevention, followed up by monitoring and, if necessary, elimination. You can view examples of IPM policies and procedures from the American Museum of Natural History (pdf) and the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University (pdf).

How do I prevent pests from infesting my collection areas?

The first part of an IPM plan is preventing access.  In the prevention stage the goal is to determine how pests might get into your building and into collections areas and, once they are in, what factors might allow them to continue to live and breed there. A good IPM plan will involve most of the following elements:

  • Identifying and fixing problems in the building and room structure that allow pests entry (e.g., cracks in roofs and walls, doors and window seals) and then, ideally, providing for well sealed cabinets that deter access to specimens. 
  • Maintaining an environment in collections areas that is not hospitable for pests.  Pest infestations can sometimes be directly related to temperature and relative humidity and the conditions outlined in Storage Environments should help ensure that pests aren’t drawn into collections due to the presence of high heat or humidity conditions under which they flourish. 
  • Storage room
    Making sure that collection areas are kept clean and free of trash, debris and foodstuffs that could encourage pests will also enable good housekeeping and thereby help prevent infestations.
  • Developing new collection procedures to make sure that new collections and packing material are safe to enter collections areas.  For examples of these types of documents click here
  • Keeping food and food preparation far away from collections housing.

How do I know if I have pests in my collection areas?

Examining sticky trap under a microscope.

The second part of an IPM plan is monitoring. All buildings have their own ecosystem based on their location and other historic factors.  Some pests will always be found inside. Monitoring this ecosystem provides a useful way to determine what species are common in your facility and when conditions might have changed to allow one species to become common enough to present a danger to the collections.  A good way of monitoring is to place insect traps, such as sticky traps or pheromone traps, throughout collection areas. It is important to check these traps on a regular basis and keep a record of the contents (For an example of a spreadsheet for recording this data click here). Any sightings of known pests, such as cockroaches, dermestid beetles, silverfish, book lice, mice, or rats, mold outbreaks, or unusual insects should be responded to immediately.

How do I get rid of pests if I find them in my collection areas?

Elimination is the third element of an IPM plan. The use of chemical agents to deal with either routine pest mitigation or more entrenched infestations is best left to professional pest management companies who are up-to-date on local regulations and health and safety standards. In addition, there are two non-chemical processes that can be used safely for many types of collection materials: freezing and anoxic treatments. For more on the details of these treatments download the Peabody Museum of Natural History’s Freezing Procedures  and look for the anoxic treatment template on the website.

Use of Solid Wood Packing Materials (SWPM)

A particular issue affecting the transport of paleontological specimens from the field is the use of solid wood packing materials; because of their weight, paleontological specimens frequently are shipped in wooden crates and pieces of wood are often used to provide additional strengthening for large field jackets. SWPM refers to primary wood packing materials such as crating, pallets, packing blocks, drums, cases and skids.

Asiatic long-horned beetle

SWPM is vulnerable to attack by wood boring insects; crates and pallets made from untreated wood are thought to have been the source of the 1996 outbreak of the invasive Asiatic long-horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis). In a collection environment they may cause serious damage to untreated wood artifacts, furniture, and structural timbers. Failure to use appropriately treated SWPM, and to provide evidence of such when shipping specimens into the country, may be grounds for denial of entry, destruction of the shipment, and legal sanctions including fines. For more on this topic click here.

How can I learn more about IPM?

For More Information on IPM visit This website is a product of the Integrated Pest Management Working Group – an ad hoc group of museum professionals (collection managers, entomologists, conservators, etc) – who have put together useful tools for collecting institutions to help them implement and run integrated pest management programs.