Experimenting with moths’ sexuality might not seem a typical job for the curators at the Natural History Museum.
But this is the latest solution to the problem of keeping exhibitions safe and protected. Since the introduction of a ban on pesticides, which have been blamed for a decline in the bee population, museum keepers have found a new way to stop moths from destroying their prized fur, feather and taxidermy exhibits.
By tricking male moths into fruitlessly trying to mate with other males, the museum has found it can stop reproduction without having to kill the insects.
‘It’s called the Pheromone Destruction System and in simplistic terms, it makes male moth attracted to other male moths,’ said Armando Mendex, quarantine facility manager at the museum, who is heading the project.
He told the Telegraph: ‘They only live for a couple of weeks and during that time there is only a small window in which they can reproduce.
‘If they spend this unknowingly attempting to attract and fertilise male moths, then it reduces the offspring we are up against.’
The unusual system, which was developed by Winchester-based laboratory Exosect, is even available for use at home. It works by luring male moths into traps filled with the female moth pheromone. When they leave the traps, they get covered in the scent, which makes them irresistible to other males.
The males are then encouraged follow them around and try to mate. It does not hurt them, but it has led to a 50% fall in moth numbers at the museum.
‘It’s like birth control for moths,’ said Georgina Donovan of Exosect.
‘The product consists of a small tablet that looks like a tiny piece of chalk. The tablet is made up of Entostat, a wax powder which due to its electrostatic properties it sticks to insects.
‘Users may well notice more moths to start with as the pheromone brings them out but this is a good sign as it means more of the moth population will become affected by the powder and eventually taken out of the mating cycle.
‘Over time, less mating means less eggs are laid, less larvae hatch and ruin your clothes. It can be used all year round with no upheaval to the home whatsoever.’