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How To: Be a Good Museum Pest

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 20 June 2013

Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This new blog is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. The first along this (hopefully) long and happy blogging path is…

How to: Be a Good Museum Pest

There are two types of creepy crawlies that you get in museums; ones that don’t eat specimens (i.e. creepy crawlies that fair poorly at being museum pests) and ones that do eat specimens (these typically do well at being pests).  First, you need to decide which you are. If the thought of eating dried cartilage, wooden drawers, paper labels, certain glues, feathers, or fur turns you off… go away, you’re a rubbish pest. However if the opportunity to chow down on the internal remnants of an animal skull makes you salivate, then continue reading my friend, this how to guide is for you.


Secondly, you need to get in to the museum. This can be done in a number of ways. An excellent and well tested method of transportation is to catch a lift on a human. If you are a species such as a carpet beetle that the selected human is likely to have in it’s home (even the clean ones), then simply hitch a ride from your house. For other pest species- perhaps you are wandering down the street looking for some grub when you catch a whiff of those little tiny crumbs left behind in the Museum by the human family that accidentally didn’t read the polite notice ‘please do not eat in the Museum’. Simply follow the trail to enjoy a free picnic and of course, once you have eaten the crumbs that attracted you in the first place you can move on to the museum’s specimens.


Thirdly, a really good pest has several strategies for causing wide-scale chaos. It is not just about consumption of the first thing you find and that’s it, off to the next museum. No no, you can do so much more! There is the obvious biological product of eating a lot; poo. Make sure you poo everywhere. This will attract other pests and really get the party started. However, the best way to ensure really high levels of specimen-munching pestiness is to breed. Lay your eggs all over the shop, preferably in really-hard-for-the-Museum-Assistant-to-extract-places such as embedded deep down inside a nasal cavity, or perhaps further-than-any-pair-of-tweezers-can-reach inside a leg bone. Yeah, that’s the best. Your spawn will hatch and have plenty to eat, ensuring full scale bio-war with the Museum conservation staff.


Fourthly, many species of museum pest entertain the skin-shedding method of growing, in the way that snakes or spiders do. If you are one such pest type, shed shed shed! Leave those skins everywhere. Not only do they make a right royal mess but they also attract other pests who come along and eat them. Double bonus.


Finally… When you first arrive at the Museum check out the guide (normally found near the entrance) for the most valuable specimens to science on display there. Once you have a firm lock on what’s what, head straight for those and get out your metaphorical knife and fork. By choosing high profile specimens, which are likely to go on loan to other Museums, you can embark on a pestiforous Museum-Crawl, like a first year university student intent on seeing every pub in the city in one night.


Job done.



My final piece of advice to you on being a good museum pest is to watch out for and give a wide birth to the following:

Blunder traps. These very sticky traps are designed specifically to catch you my dear friend

Highly visible areas on display specimens, avoiding being seen is highly recommended

Light/bright areas, for the same reason as above

The Museum Assistant. For hell hath no fury…


Maybe you enjoyed this blog, maybe you’re hoping the next one will be better? The next installment will be three weeks today, so download your desktop count-down calender now…


Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Museum Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

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