When, all filled with ignorance, I took Uncle Lou's old violin into the local music store for their violin expert to examine, I got two dramatic but quite different reactions.

The first, from the violin expert, was quite positive.  A decent, well constructed instrument, perhaps even somewhat valuable.

But the second, from the music store owner, was dramatically negative.  He was not looking at the violin (which was still in the hands of the violin expert), but rather at its case.  And what he saw filled him with horror.  He asked me to remove it from his store as quickly as I could.  When I asked why, he pointed to some little black specks and several small tan colored fuzzy oval -- things.  "Carpet beetles!" he shuddered.


This unassuming little creature, called a "wooly bear", is the larval form of one variety of carpet beetle. Its kinfolk , who infested Uncle Lou's violin case, were able to spark fear and loathing in a local music store owner.  They so horrified the shop owner that he risked losing a customer (me) in his rush to get me to remove the case from his store. I found this little guy in our pantry, at the corner between the ceiling and the wall.  That's where I took this shot.  They seem to like the dark, and they like climbing UP -- I believe this is when they are ready to turn into adults.

He explained that they eat horse hair and glue, and various other things that are used in violin construction and repair, and that an infestation could cost him a lot of money.

Anyway, I took the case from his shop and followed his instructions -- spray thoroughly with a general household insecticide that lists carpet beetles (your major name-brand ant & roach sprays usually list them in the fine print), focusing on the corners and seams; vacuum it thoroughly, focusing on the corners and seams; then spray it again and leave the case closed for some time.  I've seen no further sign of the dreaded carpet beetle larvae in my violin cases after doing this, but I do see them from time to time in our pantry, right along the edge of the ceiling.

I have also heard that, because the larvae much prefer the dark, a bow that is used regularly is rarely attacked by them.  A case that is opened often is not likely to get infested, and leaving a case open in indirect sunlight is another way to drive them out.


This one got quite active after I knocked it down from its perch in the pantry.  But I was eventually able to get it to pose next to this millimeter scale.  At nearly half a centimeter, it's about as big as they get.  This supports my theory that they climb up when they're ready to metamorphose into adults.

I was going to let it turn into an adult, then photograph the resultant beetle, but sadly, my wife washed the glass jar in which I was keeping it ...

Carpet beetle larvae like to chew through the horse hair of bows right at the frog, and this was the condition of one of my grandfather's two bows when I opened the carpet beetle infested case that had been put away nearly 40 years before.

I've learned a lot of interesting stuff about these guys, but rather than rewriting it all, here are some of my favorite links on carpet beetles, aka museum beetles:
Ohio State University Carpet Beetle Fact Sheet
Johnson String Instrument article on Bow Bugs
Iowa State University Carpet Beetle Article
National Trust (UK) Carpet Beetle Fact Sheet
University of Maine Carpet Beetle Fact Sheet
Valent BioSciences (Commercial, but good facts)


Dave's Violin Page