Don’t let collecting bug you.

Collecting can be a long-time entertaining hobby. Some folks might call it a passion and others an obsession. Its fun finding all the items that can make up a great collection, but sometimes, if you are not careful it can really bug you.

What? Bug me? How can my passion bug me?

Let me explain. Collecting can require attention to your items more than just finding a suitable display case or shelf to put them on. Depending on what you collect, there are little critters that just might enjoy your collection more than you do!

Yup, I am literally talking about bugs. Bugs that want to love your items so much, that they literally take them to dinner with them. Their dinner.

Proper storage for your antiques and collectibles is important and goes from the proper storage place and system, to the very temperature and climate of the space they are stored in.

If you collect paper items such as historical documents, autographs, photos, magazines, stamps, newspapers and such there are a couple insects you should be looking out for.

The ones everyone enjoys hating the most are cockroaches. Roaches have been around for about 320 million years and belong to the insect group Blattodea which has about 4,600 different species. 30 of these species enjoy human habitats and about 5 of them are considered pests. Blattodea also include termites.

Cockroaches are generally omnivorous and enjoy leather, starch (found in book bindings), paper and glue: all the ingredients of a fine paper collection. Some have lived for very long periods of time on only the glue on the back of postage stamps (Bad news for stamp collectors).

20% to 48% of homes with no visible signs of the insect will still test positive for cockroach allergens in the air. Keeping your home clean, good rotation of pesticides and perhaps the use of a smooth glass jar with a ramp and bait as a trap are about the best you can do against them.

Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) are small wingless insects that are a silvery light gray color. They are fairly quick on a flat surface but are not great climbers. Silverfish eat many of the same collectibles that cockroaches enjoy. Starches in adhesives, book bindings, paper, and photos. If nothing else is around to eat, then tapestries, silks, linens and even leather can be on the menu. They can live without food for a year if they have water. As far as pest control, as is with roaches, there is no one insecticide that proves 100% effective.

Book lice are small cylindrical, pale wingless insects. They look like specks. They like damp and moldy books, so if you have books that get damp or wet, don’t hang on to them as they are a perfect habitat for them to eat the mold and fungi that develop.

But, Ed, I collect furniture, wooden tobacco pipes or wooden planes and tools so I don’t have to worry much. Nope, sorry. Critters love to eat wood too!

The most common wood muncher is the termite. Termites have been found to come from the same scientific family as cockroaches. There are about 3,000 species of termites classified with about 50 of them living in North America. Termites are detritivores. This means they consume plant matter at any level of decomposition. So this includes furniture and paper. Eating wood from the inside out, they can remain undiscovered for quite a long time.

The way termites can get into your home (other than from underground) to eat your yummy antique furniture is by bringing in an item of furniture that is already host to a colony. One of the easiest to see signs of termites are termite faecal pellets – They are tiny round spheres that are light brown and are usually found in piles below a hole in the item. Basically, it’s termite poop. If you see that, get the piece of furniture out of the house fast and call an exterminator. Be cautious of buying furniture that has been stored in a barn or shed that is at ground level. Inspect it thoroughly for damage and signs of life. Look hard as termites can eat the inside of a table leg and leave the outermost layer which makes it still look solid.

Powderpost beetles have seventy species of in their family of woodboring beetles classified in the insect subfamily Lyctinae. These beetles enjoy woods from deciduous trees. Items ripe for infestation and also on the menu for these beetles include wooden tools or tool handles, frames, furniture, gun stocks, books, toys, and bamboo items.

An infestation of powderpost beetles can be hard to detect as they can live inside the wood for years only being noticed from the hole they bore to exit the wood. They can instantly lay their eggs in the same wood and keep the infestation going. Wood preservatives are your best defense.

Other wood boring beetles include the Common Furniture Beetle, the Death Watch Beetle, the Ambrosia Beetle, The Fan-Bearing Wood-Borer, the Bark Borer, the Wood Boring Weevil, the Hose Longhorn, the Asian Long-Horned Beetle and the Wharf Beetle. I once knew a teak and exotic wood furniture importer who had to have every container of furniture tented and fumigated before it could leave the shipping pier.

There are other insects that compromise wood such as carpenter ants and carpenter or wood boring bees, but they are more likely to be munching on a on a structural support to make themselves a home, than eating your fine furniture. Look for the perfectly round holes they make as they chew their way out.

Insect pests are not the only threat to your antiques. Rodents also can and will cause damage to many items. Storing items in sheds can invite rats and mice which must chew to keep their teeth short. This behavior puts your wooden items at risk if not properly stored. Mice love chewing up paper items to make nests out of it and also padding and stuffing in upholstery and pillows. Rats and mice also constantly urinate as they walk which also ruins fabrics.

If your collection contains vehicles of any kind that are stored out of doors or in open sheds or barns, watch where you put your hands. Black Widow spiders love to lay eggs around and under vehicles. Snakes can also find cozy homes in cars that are not driven regularly, usually eating the squirrels and mice that have set up a nest in your car.

So, collect away, but be cautious and vigilant. Examine possible purchases carefully and monitor your treasures for unfriendlies. Once the damage is done, it’s hard to undo. Get to know a good pest controller and have your home treated for pests at least twice a year.

 

Published in Florida Today online edition 9/16/2020 – Florida Today print edition Sunday, 9/20/2020