Post by Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate (Human History)
Fifteen year old Eleanor Geib and eighteen year old James “Jimmy” Brady met at a dance hall on Strood Avenue in North Kildonan.
They began courting and after Jimmy enlisted with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, exchanged love letters while he was stationed on garrison duty in Bermuda and Jamaica at the beginning of WWII. His parting words in nearly every letter were “With all my love for you and you only” and he signed many of them “Diamond Jim”, a reference to a popular comic strip of the era, according to his younger sister, Dorothy.
When Jimmy returned to Winnipeg on furlough in October 1941, the couple married at her parents’ home on Bonner Avenue, with her sister Marguerite and his friend Harry Robinson, a fellow Grenadier, serving as witnesses. Within days of marrying, Jimmy and the rest of the Winnipeg Grenadiers were shipped out to Hong Kong.
Jimmy wrote to Eleanor about his journey through western Canada and the uneventful voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, he sent his new bride a beautiful green silk pyjama set and slippers, along with letters about life abroad.
Expecting a quiet assignment at the former British colony, the Canadian military was surprised when the Japanese army descended on the island of Hong Kong on December 8, 1941. After a 17 day fight, dubbed the Battle of Hong Kong, the Canadians capitulated on Christmas Day and Canadian, British and Indian survivors were taken as prisoners of war of the Japanese for the next 44 months. Private James Brady did not survive the battle, dying in combat on December 19, 1941. In the ensuing chaos, his wife, mother and sisters did not receive word of his passing until January of 1943.
Following the war, widows and mothers of the war dead were given the Memorial Cross medal. Eleanor, widowed at age 17, fastened her engagement ring to the purple silk ribbon of the medal she received and stored it away with the letters, pyjamas, photographs and other objects she had saved from her brief marriage.
Eleanor went on to marry again and had four children with her second husband. She spoke little of her first love, but even after her passing in 2005, her daughters kept the trove of mementos safe in her stead. Last summer, after learning of the Manitoba Museum’s Hong Kong Veterans collection on the local CTV morning show, her daughters made the decision to donate Eleanor’s treasures to the museum. These objects complement the collection in a unique, albeit tragic, way: we have very few materials from Winnipeg Grenadiers who did not survive the Battle of Hong Kong and subsequent internment. The family also connected us with Jimmy’s surviving sister, Dorothy, who came to the museum to view the new acquisitions –she commented that Jimmy always had excellent handwriting and was a prolific letter writer. Dorothy imparted more information about Jimmy’s short life for our records and donated the Memorial Cross medal her mother had received 70 years earlier, after the loss of her only son.
These new acquisitions have been carefully catalogued and photographed, detailing the story of Jimmy and Eleanor, his death and the events that followed. His story continues through the preservation of his written word and the objects he lovingly chose for his young bride. All his love for her and her only.
Post by Nancy Anderson, Collections Management Associate (Human History)
You may have heard the old adage, attributed to either Napoleon or Frederick the Great, an army travels on its stomach. The saying attests to the importance of military forces being well-provisioned. A healthy food supply is especially critical for those recovering from illness or injury. Military histories rarely document the key role young women, such as dietitian Nora Mary Attree, played during World War II. Recently, Mary Attree's niece, Janice Attree-Smith, donated a collection of materials documenting Mary's war-time service.
Mary was born in 1912 in Sapton, Manitoba, to a family with deeps roots in Manitoba. Her great-great grandfather, “Orkney” John Inkster, came to Red River in 1821 in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Mary’s family describes her as a friendly, unassuming woman with a great sense of humour. She was a good listener and someone they could always count on.
Mary attended the University of Manitoba and seems to have made the most of university life. An article in the Winnipeg Free Press mentions that she assisted as the home economics students entertained in the practice house at the tea hour and played interclass basketball that evening. Mary graduated with a BSc in 1931 and won the gold medal in Home Economics in 1931. She went on to post graduate training in Dietetics at Victoria General Hospital and was working in Regina at the opening of WWII.
In the fall of 1940, Mary Attree applied to enlist. In a letter to her parents she said “the experiences in a hospital of that kind, would be invaluable. As you know I do not mind hard work – and heaven knows there will be plenty of that! If I were to accept, it would merely be changing from one position to another, and actually has little or no danger attached to it. Anyway, who wants to touch an irate cook!” She was appointed an officer in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps with whom she would serve in Nova Scotia, then England, France, Belgium, and Holland before returning home to Canada to receive her discharge on August 21, 1945.
Lt. Attree served as a dietitian at No. 8 Canadian General hospital where she “supervised the cooking and distribution of food to approximately 25,000 patients, along with the unit personnel” in one ten-month period. In a letter written by Capt. A. H. Ernswell, he described how she took “care of the feeding problems of a 600 bed hospital, personnel and patients under some very trying conditions”. Today, a 600 bed hospital would be the second largest in Manitoba. During her military career Mary Attree received the oak leaf insignia for mention in dispatches and she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Class 2 (ARRC) medal. A generous and loyal friend, Mary forged strong bonds with her fellow nursing staff members – friendships she would retain throughout her life.
In 1947 Mary began 26 year career as with the RCMP as a Senior Messing Officer heading up a staff of six dietitians across the country. You could say that her career mirrored her military service as she continued to support the work of the force by keeping them well provisioned. Mary was quoted as saying that the Mounties are “healthy men, and we try to keep them that way.” Initially she would have been considered a civil servant; the civilian member category of the force was not created until 1960. In 1966 she was one of only 100 women working within the male dominated organization. Her family described her as a feminist ahead of her time.
Sources: Winnipeg Free Press, October 26, 1929, p. 48; Brandon Sun, September 22, 1966, pg. 8; Documents and biographical notes provided by Janice Attree-Smith.
Post by Karen Sereda, Collections Registration Associate (Natural History)
We humans are not the only ones who like to dress up; sometimes animals disguise themselves to look like something else, like we do at Hallowe’en. They may be trying to look like something else or it could be a warning. The ecological term for this is mimicry. There are many different types of mimicry, and differing reasons why an animal would try “look” like something else. I was reminded of this recently when I catalogued a clear wing moth that looked like a wasp. Hover flies also resemble bees or wasps to discourage other animals from eating them, as do some butterflies.
I first learned about mimicry years ago during a summer job when I was collecting information about differing types of moths. Near some flowers was a hover fly fluttering about. The research scientist I was working for told me not to worry, that it wouldn’t sting me because it actually was a moth, and it was there to drink nectar from the flower. I thought that was so cool!
Sometimes bright colours are used by animals to warn possible predators that they contain toxic or bad-tasting chemicals. It’s a bit like wearing a costume to scare you.
And other animals may adopt these bright colours pretending to be toxic, when they actually are not! The king snake lives in areas where the coral snake occurs, and looks very similar to the coral snake. It takes advantage of the coral snake’s warning colouration.
Stick insects are not dangerous to humans, but many are predators of other insects. They have evolved an appearance that looks just like a twig. They remain very still, and if an unsuspecting insect wanders too close, they grab it and eat it! There are even some other insects that look just like leaves!
Another reason animals try to blend in with their surroundings is to keep themselves safe. This is a type of mimicry usually called camouflage, and many of our Manitoba animals such as rabbits, mice, squirrels, and deer use camouflage. Our Museum galleries have lots of examples of camouflage. This picture is from one of the galleries in the Manitoba Museum. Can you can spot the bird?
Post by Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate (Human History)
Our human history collection is full of special objects, highlighting significant points in Manitoba’s past –like Cuthbert Grant’s medicine chest or the replica of the Nonsuch. Yet we also make a point of collecting objects that represent everyday life in Manitoba – cans of soup, well-loved toys and farming implements. These mundane objects surprise people, since most of us consider objects we use routinely to have little historical value. Then there are objects that baffle even the seasoned museologist, begging questions like what and, most importantly, why?
Early in my days working with the human history collection, I was searching for a medical-related artifact in an area of our storage room rife with old medicine and surgical tools. I pulled an unlabeled box off a high shelf to have a look inside and was shocked to find it full of dentures –it gave me quite a start. I wish I could say it was the only time that box of dentures had scared me.
Only one pair of our dentures can be linked to a specific person; the others were donated by the Manitoba Dental Association or have no known source. So if they don’t belong to a historical figure, why collect them? Dentures have been made of various materials for centuries. Wood, human and animal teeth, ivory, bone, and porcelain have all been used to fashion false teeth throughout history. Modern dentures are made from synthetic materials like acrylic. The dentures in our collection capture techniques and materials at a specific moment in time, allowing researchers to make comparisons to older and newer generations of false teeth.
Recently, some of our staff took part in an AMA on Reddit during Ask a Curator day (#AskACurator). One of the questions asked was “what is the weirdest object in your collection?” I immediately thought of an inflatable doll, which made her way into our collection in 1984 as part of a much larger donation from the old Winnipeg Musical Supply store. The doll is in excellent condition, meaning that she has never been used. And no, she doesn’t inflate – we’ve tried. Her face is coming away from her body, creating a hole where air can escape. This object is close to my heart because when I was in university, doing my Masters in Museum Studies, I wrote a paper about collecting sexual artifacts and discussed the inclusion of the doll in the collection and staff’s reactions to her presence. It’s highly unlikely that “Dolly” will ever be exhibited and her provenance isn’t clear, but she definitely captures a period of time when novelty and gag gifts were popular.
The previous artifacts are odd, true, but everyone knows that teeth are needed for chewing and enunciating and everyone loves a good laugh, but this artifact can turn stomachs and bewilder minds better than no other.
During the Victorian era, the popularity of jewellery made of human hair saw a definite rise. Hair would be collected from a loved one and woven into intricate patterns to make bracelets, brooches, earrings and necklaces. Wearing mourning jewellery fabricated from the hair of deceased relatives was common amongst Victorian women. People also made wreaths from human hair to display on their walls, often taking hair from multiple family members to complete a single wreath.
This example was made in Ontario by Mary Jane McKague and brought to Manitoba in 1881, first to Emerson by train and then transported by ox cart to the community of Coulter south of Melita where Mary Jane and her husband John homesteaded. Mary Jane died in childbirth delivering her sixth and final child in 1895. Her wreath was carefully kept by her eldest daughter and later three of her granddaughters before they donated it to the Manitoba Museum in 1985. It is one of several examples of Victorian hair art and jewellery in our collection. Even if the thought of handling human hair is unsettling, these objects are an important part of our understanding of 19th century society, fashion and the Victorian mourning process.
What commonplace objects that we think nothing of today will give pause to museum collectors of the future? Only time will tell!
Post by Kim Cielos, Collections and Conservation Assistant - Young Canada Works Summer Student
It has been an exciting summer as the Collections and Conservation Assistant summer student at the Manitoba Museum. This is not my first job in a museum; previously I had summer positions at the Transcona Museum as a Collections and Research Assistant and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as a Collection Inventory Assistant. This is however, the first time I have had the chance to undertake conservation-related duties. I work closely with Cindy Colford and Carolyn Sirett who are two amazing people that guided me throughout the summer teaching me about conservation work. Perhaps it’s destiny, but coincidentally, both Cindy and Carolyn have studied (and Cindy was a professor in the Collections Conservation and Management Program) at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario where I will be going this going fall. Though I will be taking the Museum Management and Curatorship Program and not the Conservation program, there are some aspects where these two programs intertwine with each other. Thus, not only did I get to experience things before learning them in my program at Fleming, but I got to do, in my opinion, some pretty neat stuff.
Every morning, my routine would be to do a gallery check, looking for any burnt out lights, conditions of the artifacts, as well as tracking relative humidity and temperature. Every week however, I would have to clean the Nonsuch, a replica 17th Century ship that sailed into Hudson Bay in search of furs for England and was significant in establishing large scale trading in western Canada. This ship is an important part of Canadian history and is an artifact itself which needs to be maintained and cared for. Instead of the traditional broom and mop, I would put on a backpack vacuum (which looks a little bit like a ghostbuster), to clean the ship.
There are perks to working in a museum – not only do you get to see artifacts up close and personal, which is really exciting for a history nerd, but sometimes there are super cool specimens that you wouldn’t normally get to see - like a moonrock that was loaned from NASA! Another aspect of museum work is that sometimes you have to travel to deliver or retrieve an artifact that is being loaned – this can mean a summer road trip! In July, Carolyn and I couriered the Red Cross quilt that was being loaned to the Moosehorn Heritage Museum which is a two hour drive north-west of Winnipeg. You can read more about the quilt that was recently acquired by the Museum in Nancy Anderson’s blog. The quilt has been on display at the Moosehorn Heritage Museum for the summer and will come back to the Manitoba Museum in the fall.
I have only touched a tip of the iceberg with what I have done this summer. I have done other conservation tasks like polishing silver medals from WWII and taking photographs of artifacts before and after their treatment, helping to clean a cast iron coat of arms from the HBC Museum Collection, as well as making new custom boxes for artifacts to go into storage. From the collections side, I helped with cataloging artifacts and entering information into the collections management database, and labelling specimens from the zoology collections with their catalouge numbers.
The people at the Manitoba Museum were wonderful and helpful in creating an educational and fun experience here. Not only did I get to see the interesting aspects of conservation and collections, but my time here helped me broaden my knowledge about the different roles and career options that are possible in the museum field. I may be going into a general museum studies program, but I feel better prepared for the conservation-related tasks that may come along after my summer at the Manitoba Museum.
Post by Carolyn Sirett, Conservator
Legacies of Confederation: A New Look at Manitoba History, tells many inspiring stories and is supported by several amazing artifacts and specimens. Most visitors to the Museum do not get to see what happens behind-the-scenes in order to prepare our artifacts and specimens for display. Research is compiled, design and layouts are created, condition reports are completed, mounts are built, and in some cases, conservation treatments are performed in order to ensure the safe display of the Museum’s collections.
A significant specimen in the Legacies exhibition is the bison head mount seen in the Discovery Room. Prior to the installation and opening of this exhibition, this taxidermy mount spent about two months undergoing conservation treatment and preparation so that it could be safely displayed.
Before treating the specimen, I conducted research on the history of taxidermy from 1911-1912, the time period when the mount was created by Winnipeg taxidermist E.W. Darbey (You can find out more about this specimen in the Curator of Zoology, Dr. Randy Mooi's blog). This research helped me to better understand the material make-up and structure of the specimen. I then completed a condition assessment which revealed that repairs to the ears, mouth, neck, cape, and the wooden backing board would be needed before it could be exhibited.
The ears of the specimen showed the most visible damage in the form of extreme shrinkage, which resulted in a number of tears and splits in the surface.
The skin had shrunk so much that the internal structure of the taxidermy mount was exposed.
I was able to repair this damage by cutting the exposed wire framework to the surface of the skin without damaging the hide. I then used a piece of Japanese tissue paper sized to cover the split in the skin and in-painted the tissue with watercolours to match the surrounding hide. Using a conservation grade heat-set adhesive, the Japanese tissue paper was adhered in place and set with a tacking iron. The final touches to the ears included placing a few strands of bison fur from a sample to produce a consistent look to the area.
In addition to the ear repair, a large hole in the neck was infilled with plaster, years of dust and dirt was removed, and the original wooden backing board was consolidated.
Before being selected to be part of the Legacies exhibition, this specimen spent most of its time in storage lying flat. But now, visitors to the Museum can see the specimen as it was intended, wall-mounted vertically.
On the day of installation, it took four installation staff to lift this nearly 100-pound specimen into position – five feet in the air. Today, as a feature piece within this exhibition, the bison head mount demonstrates its iconic significance to Manitoba’s history.
The Museum’s Conservation Department is charged with ensuring the long-term preservation of the Museum’s collections by mitigating deterioration before it begins, and responding to damage when required.
Post by Karen Sereda, Collections Registration Associate (Natural History)
Where do all the dead animals come from?
This is a common question we get at the Museum. People sometimes think that Museum staff regularly go out and kill birds and other animals for displays. This is not the case. Birds for example, sometimes accidentally fly into windows and die. We call these “window strikes”. If someone noticed at the time, they may go and pick the dead bird up, put it in a bag and freeze it. At a later date, that person might bring the bird to the Museum. If the Curator of Zoology, Dr. Randy Mooi, accepts the bird as a donation, then it is thawed and a bird skin is made.
The Museum's Diorama and Collections Technician prepares bird skins from the donated “window strikes”. You can read more about the preparation of bird skins in this blog by Debbie Thompson.
Once the bird skin is dry, the pins can be removed and the specimen is catalogued. The information or as we call it, “the data”, associated with a specimen is just as important to us as the bird itself. When I get a bird skin to catalogue the first thing I usually do is find the donor form, and then look up its name. Dr. Mooi would have already determined its scientific name. The bird is assigned a catalogue number, and its taxonomic classification is confirmed.
Where, when and by whom the bird was collected is important information to know. Sometimes the person collecting the bird may have noted the time of day or what the bird was eating, or other interesting information about that particular bird. Donor information is also recorded. All this information makes up the data that is then entered into our digital database.
So why do we collect bird skins?
Collecting birds, or any other natural history specimen, is a record of where and when a particular organism lived. Bird distributions are known to change. Having a particular bird specimen is physical evidence of a bird living in a particular area. This is sometimes a record of how birds have expanded into new areas, or may have become less common in other areas.
Also, not all birds of one species will look exactly the same. Even though they might be of a similar age and sex, birds can be different sizes, and exhibit different colour variations.
Sometimes samples are taken to test for DNA or other chemicals. This is how it was discovered that use of the pesticide DDT was causing the decline of certain species of predatory birds, such as eagles. The decline was because DDT accumulated in the parent birds, and caused thinning of bird egg shells. Then less baby birds would hatch successfully.
So, we never know, someday in the future those birds we collect might serve an unexpected purpose.
Post by Nancy Anderson, Collections Management Associate (Human History)
When the weather turns cold many of us pull out handcrafted quilts and afghans. The comfort they bring often goes beyond the mere physical and can make us feel as if the people that created them are enveloping us in a warm and loving hug. Recently, a very special quilt was donated to the Manitoba Museum. One of thousands sent overseas by the Canadian Red Cross during the Second World War to provide warmth and comfort, it has now returned home to Manitoba nearly 75 years later.
The story of the quilt begins in Steep Rock, Manitoba where local women would have been part of a network of participants in the Red Cross “Women’s War Work” sewing and knitting program. It was likely sorted and packed at a Red Cross facility before being shipped overseas and on to the Dudley Road Hospital in Birmingham. There, a Matron passed the quilt on to Cynthia (Betty) Craddock sometime towards the end of the war. Betty worked as a lathe operator making tank parts in a factory in Coventry. Her husband Joe had completed apprenticeship as a painter and decorator and then was called up for the army in 1940. He worked as a cook for the Army Intelligence Corp, serving in England and Wales. Joe reached the continent just after D-Day and was among the first troops in Belgium. They had married in 1943 and were together for over 70 years. Their only son Anthony was born in 1945.
Following the war, the family moved to Kenilworth and the quilt went along with them. Britain was recovering from the war and rationing was still in place. Joe was working to start his own business. Anthony’s earliest memories are “of this quilt being on my bed and keeping me warm when times were hard.” He recalls that, “with no central heating, frost would often appear on the inside of the window.” The young Anthony was amazed by the colours and patterns and remembers reading the message on a tag on one corner of the quilt, “Gift Canadian Red Cross, Steep Rock Man. Can.”
The Canadian Red Cross Society was founded in 1896. The purpose of the Society, as set out in its 1909 Act of Incorporation, was “to furnish volunteer aid to the sick and wounded of armies in time of war”. Following WWI, the Red Cross expanded its role into public health, especially in remote or newly settled areas of Canada. The two mandates merged in WWII as the Red Cross worked with military personnel and civilian victims of the war. On the home front, countless volunteers worked to high standards creating supplementary hospital and relief supplies.
The Canadian Red Cross Society distributed patterns and lapel pins to volunteers in the “Women’s War Work” program.
Impressed by the workmanship in the quilt, Betty kept it safely in a cupboard for many years. Last year, after Joe’s death, Betty was having a sort out and Anthony saw the quilt for the first time in many years. As the memories came flooding back, they decided that the quilt should be sent home and contacted the museum.
Now that the quilt has been received into the museum’s collection, Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History is looking forward to sharing it with the community and perhaps learning more about the “hands-on” humanitarians who sewed it. As the women of Steep Rock gathered to create this quilt, I’m sure they would not have imagined that it would be treasured by the receiving family into the next century.
120 Years of the Canadian Red Cross at www.redcross.ca/history/home
Biographical and historical notes provided by Anthony Craddock
Post by Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate (Human History)
Twas the week before Christmas and all through the museum,
Artifacts wondered if visitors would see ‘em.
Some historical treasures sat smug on display,
While other objects remained hidden away.
These ornaments once hung on old Christmas trees,
Some dating as far back as the 1920s!
With the curator in his office and I snug in mine,
I catalogued objects from way back in time.
When deep in the vault, exploring I go,
Finding boxes of Christmas lights from long, long ago.
Quick to the shelf, with nitrile gloved paw,
I admire the condition, in a reverent awe.
The box is pristine, it’s practically new!
A string of Noma lights within, in green, yellow and blue.
When what to my wandering eye should I see?
It’s Frosty the Snowman on small cardboard skis!
Then a large mechanical Santa, who seems truly alive,
Bought in the forties from Eaton’s for two-hundred-seventy-five!
Before Winnipeg, Toronto was where Santa got his kicks
-he decorated the home of a man named F. William Nicks.
The wreaths, the records, the garland and more!
Lovingly bought long ago from a store.
Now all a part of our Christmas collection,
Even some doughy Christmas confection!
And not all the things are from days of yore;
Some come from a time when break dancers tore up the floor!
Cabbage Patch Kids and Snoopy to boot...
Our vault contains all kinds of modern-day loot!
I could go on; our collections are vast,
A sleighful of artifacts from Christmases past!
But alas is time to turn out the light,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Toy; Christmas, H9-29-818 ©Manitoba Museum
Wind-up plastic reindeer riding a snowmobile.
Post by Janis Klapecki, Collections Management Specialist (Natural History)
[Note: This blog contains descriptions and images that may not be suitable for sensitive individuals.]
In the Natural Sciences Department, we receive hundreds of specimens each year that will eventually be added to the permanent Scientific Collections. The Curators collect specimens through their many research projects, while other specimens are collected and donated by the general public. Most of these specimens require some very specific and time-consuming preparation before they can be in a state for which a researcher can use them. Fossils are exposed with precision tools, insects are painstakingly pinned, plants are pressed and artfully mounted, and mammal and bird study skins are skillfully prepared (See Debbie Thompson’s blog - https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/a-lasting-legacy-of-a-birds-untimely-death/). Skeletons of vertebrates also require a very specialized preparation process that very few people are witness to.
Silver-haired Bat Skeleton, MM 24215 (Lasionycteris noctivagans) ©Manitoba Museum
Located deep within our Zoology research area is a small room that houses, what we affectionately call the ‘bug tank’. It is actually a metal 45 gallon drum that houses a beetle colony that we use to clean the very small or fragile skeletal specimens that may otherwise be damaged using other cleaning methods. These can include birds, small rodents such as mice and squirrels, snakes, frogs, toads and fish. One of my many tasks here at the Museum is to prepare skeletal specimens and maintain the beetle colony by keeping them healthy and well-fed.
This room is kept locked and access is restricted at all times. This is the 45 gallon metal drum that keeps the beetle colony contained – notice the locked lid. ©Manitoba Museum
The beetle species that we use in our colony is Dermestes maculatus (Identified by Reid Miller, 2016) from the Family: Dermestidae, a group that is commonly referred to as hide beetles. The adult beetles of this species are black in colour and can range in length from 5.5 to 10.0 mm. The larvae are brown in colour, hairy and pass through 5 - 11 instars, before they pupate into adults. They are natural scavengers and feed on a wide variety of material including skin, hair feathers, and natural fibers, such as wool, silk, cotton, and linen. With this in mind, I’m sure you can appreciate how careful we are at the Museum with keeping these beetles contained!
Cedar Waxwing, MM 1-2-5003 (Bombycilla cedrorum) skeleton being cleaned – notice the shed larval casings ©Manitoba Museum
Specimens are readied for the beetle colony by first making sure that all of the data has been recorded, including its weight and the standardized measurements that are taken. The specimen is then de-fleshed by removing most of the muscle tissue, internal organs and eyes. It is then placed in a drying cabinet so the specimen does not introduce mold into the colony. Once completely dried, the skeletons are placed in rows on top of a layer of cotton batting within a cardboard box lid. Each skeleton is placed with enough space between them so that if the beetles move any of the tiny bones while they are cleaning them, they don’t become mixed with the specimen next to it. The cotton batting provides a soft ‘matrix’ that the adult beetles and larvae travel through. I can then stack about 3 to 4 of these trays within the drum, which could translate to approximately 150+ small skeletons in the colony at any given time. Depending how active the colony is, skeletons can be completely cleaned in 7 to 14 days. The “Beetle Room” is kept at a cozy 28°C (83°F) to promote their life cycle and every few days I spray the trays with distilled water for added humidity. Then, I leave them alone to work their magic.
Carefully spaced Garter Snake skeletons ready to be put into the beetle colony ©Manitoba Museum
These are NOT free-range beetles!
Adult beetles and their larvae weave their way through the skeletons seeking food ©Manitoba Museum
The Dermestid beetles and their larva are just one of the types of insects that pose danger to our galleries, and the specimens and artifacts that are stored in the collections storage rooms. To ensure that none of our colony beetles escape, special considerations were built into the room. These beetles can burrow into many surfaces/media, so the walls are cinderblock, sealed with 3 coats of epoxy paint, instead of drywall. I’ve installed a perimeter of yellow tape around the room that has a layer of a sticky product applied to it (this product is similar to ‘Tanglefoot’ that is used to stop the Elm Bark Beetle on trees). The bung holes on the lid of the drum have two layers of fine mesh – this allows air exchange, but they can’t get escape.
Escape Prevention Measures – 3 rows of sticky tape by the door of the bug room, and sticky traps are installed throughout the Museum and monitored. Collections and Conservation staff are always on alert to possible insect activity and have scheduled monitoring throughout the galleries and collections spaces. ©Manitoba Museum
1. A perfectly cleaned Northern Flying Squirrel, MM 9979 (Glaucomys sabrinus) skeleton ready to file in the Collections Room, within an acid-free storage box ©Manitoba Museum
2. Systematic storage of skeletal specimens in our Permanent Scientific Collections Room ©Manitoba Museum
Completed skeleton specimens are given a final cleaning with a small paintbrush to remove any debris or shed larval casings. They are then catalogued, and each bone including the skull and mandible are numbered and placed in an acid-free box with its data label. After a final freezing treatment to be sure they are completely free of anything live, they are ready to be filed into our main Scientific Collections storage room.
These specimens are then available for researchers and educational purposes.