Papier mâché is a versatile crafting material beloved for its simplicity and the creative freedom it offers.
It is made by combining paper pulp with an adhesive paste, typically flour and water, to form shapes that harden upon drying.
This medium has been used for centuries to create a wide range of items, from simple school project models to elaborate decorative pieces.
However, papier mâché’s organic components, particularly the carbohydrates in the paper and the nutrients in the adhesive, can attract various insects.
These pests not only compromise the aesthetic appeal of the creations but can also cause structural damage, leading to the deterioration of the artwork.
In this article, we look at the types of insects that eat papier mâché’, and how to protect papier mâché creations from them.
Understanding the Attraction
The primary reason papier mâché is prone to bug infestation lies in its composition.
The flour-based paste used as an adhesive is rich in starch, a polysaccharide that is a source of energy for many organisms.
When this starch is combined with the cellulose in paper, it creates a substance that is not only malleable for artists but also highly attractive to insects as a food source.
Insects such as silverfish, cockroaches, termites, and book lice are naturally drawn to environments where their primary dietary needs—starches, sugars, and carbohydrates—are met.
Unfortunately, papier mâché provides these in abundance, especially when it is not properly sealed or stored, making it susceptible to infestation and damage by these pests.
Types of Bugs Commonly Attracted to Papier Mâché
Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)
Silverfish are small, wingless insects with a distinctive silvery, metallic appearance and a fish-like shape.
They have long antennae and typically grow to about 3/4 inches in length.
They thrive in dark, humid environments and are often found in areas with paper, glue, or textiles.
Silverfish are known to consume materials that contain polysaccharides, such as starches and dextrin in adhesives.
This makes papier mâché, which often uses flour-based paste, an ideal food source for them.
They can cause significant damage to papier mâché items by eating away at the paper and the adhesive.
Often, they leave behind a telltale sign of their presence with small holes and surface etchings.
The most common species of cockroaches that may infest papier mâché include German, Oriental, and American cockroaches.
Cockroaches are attracted to a variety of organic materials, including paper, cardboard, and glue, all of which are components of papier mâché.
They can be quite destructive, not just consuming the material but also potentially leaving behind stains, egg casings, and shed skins.
These items can also cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Termites are drawn to cellulose, which is abundant in paper products.
Papier mâché, especially when not properly sealed, can be an attractive food source for them.
Termites can be particularly destructive as they are capable of chewing through papier mâché, causing extensive damage that can compromise the structural integrity of the item.
Book Lice (Liposcelis bostrychophila)
Book lice are small, wingless insects that are not true lice but resemble them. They are pale and have a cylindrical shape with swollen abdomens.
They prefer damp environments and are often found in moldy books and paper.
Their diet consists of molds and fungi that can grow on papier mâché, especially if it is stored in a damp place or not fully dried.
While they do not bite or spread disease, they can multiply quickly and cause damage to the surface of papier mâché by grazing on it.
Carpet Beetles and Cigarette Beetles
These beetles spend a significant part of their lifecycle as larvae, during which they can graze on the surface of papier mâché.
The presence of these beetles can be identified by casings and trails on the surface of the material.
They create tunnels and holes as they burrow, which can ruin the aesthetic and structural integrity of papier mâché creations.
Signs of Infestation
Identifying an insect infestation early can save papier mâché creations from severe damage.
The most common indicators that bugs have compromised papier mâché include:
- Visible Insects: The presence of bugs such as silverfish or cockroaches on or around the papier mâché item.
- Holes and Tunnels: Small holes or burrows in the papier mâché, which are signs of insects feeding on or living within the material.
- Powdery Residue: A fine, sawdust-like substance near the papier mâché can indicate the presence of termites or book lice.
- Egg Casings and Larvae: Finding egg casings or larvae in the crevices or on the surface of papier mâché pieces.
- Mold and Mildew: These fungi are not only damaging in their own right but can also attract insects that feed on moldy or damp materials.
Choosing the Right Materials
To deter insects, consider using alternative adhesives that are less appealing to pests:
- Synthetic Glues: PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue or white craft glue can replace flour-based pastes. These adhesives contain fewer organic attractants for bugs.
- Wallpaper Paste: Some wallpaper adhesives are designed to resist mold and insects, making them a suitable option for papier mâché projects.
- Commercial Papier Mâché Pastes: These are specifically formulated to minimize insect attraction and often contain preservatives that deter bugs.
Importance of Dry and Clean Storage Conditions
Proper storage is crucial in preventing insect infestation:
Store papier mâché in an environment with controlled humidity, as insects are attracted to moisture.
Ensure that storage areas are well-ventilated to avoid the accumulation of damp air.
Moreover, regular cleaning of storage spaces can reduce the presence of insects and their eggs.
Lastly, use sealants on finished papier mâché items to create a barrier against insects.
This can include varnishes or other clear coats that also offer the added benefit of moisture resistance.
By implementing these preventative measures, the risk of insect infestation in papier mâché can be significantly reduced, preserving the integrity and beauty of the creations.
Once an infestation is detected in papier mâché items, immediate action is required to prevent further damage. Here are some treatment options:
- Isolation: Separate the affected item to prevent the spread of insects to other materials or creations.
- Freezing: For smaller items, place them in a sealed bag and freeze at a temperature below 0°F (-18°C) for at least 72 hours to kill any insects.
- Insecticides: Use insecticides specifically designed for the type of bug infesting the papier mâché. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and handle chemicals with care.
- Professional Treatment: For severe infestations, especially with termites, consult a professional pest control service.
Use of Varnishes and Sealants
Applying varnishes and sealants can provide a protective barrier that deters insects:
Use a clear acrylic sealant or varnish to coat the finished papier mâché item. This creates a hard, impermeable surface that is less attractive to insects.
Products that penetrate the papier mâché can reinforce the internal structure, making it less palatable and more difficult for insects to damage.
The Role of Synthetic Adhesives
Synthetic adhesives can play a significant role in repelling insects. You can use both PVA glue and wood glue to repel insects from the papier mâché’ creations.
Polyvinyl acetate glue, commonly known as white glue, is less attractive to insects and can be used as an alternative to flour-based paste.
On the other hand, wood glue, which often contains synthetic resins, can also deter insects due to its chemical composition and strong bonding properties.
Alternative Recipes to Deter Bugs
Creating pastes that are less appealing to bugs can be an effective way to protect papier mâché:
- Salt-Based Paste: Adding salt to the mixture can make the paste less attractive to insects due to its preservative qualities.
- Vinegar Additive: Incorporating vinegar into the paste can discourage insect infestation because of its acidity.
- Commercial Preservatives: Use commercially available preservatives that can be mixed into the paste to inhibit mold growth and repel insects.
Tips from Experienced Crafters
Experienced crafters often have their own tried-and-tested methods for creating bug-resistant papier mâché. Here are a few of them:
- Dry Thoroughly: Ensure that papier mâché items are completely dry before painting or sealing, as moisture can attract insects.
- Regular Inspections: Periodically check stored papier mâché items for signs of infestation.
- Airtight Containers: Store finished items in airtight containers to prevent access by insects.
Making Papier Mâché Food Safe
The question of whether papier mâché can be made food-safe is complex due to the traditional materials used in its creation.
While papier mâché itself is not inherently food-safe due to the potential for bacteria growth and the presence of non-edible components, certain measures can be taken to make it more suitable for contact with food.
- Sealants: Applying a food-safe sealant is crucial. Epoxy resins that are FDA-approved for contact with food can provide a safe, impermeable barrier between the papier mâché and food items.
- Use of Food-Safe Adhesives: Instead of traditional flour-based paste, use food-safe adhesives available on the market that are designed for potential contact with food.
- Surface Covering: For an extra layer of protection, use materials like parchment paper or food-safe plastic as a barrier between the papier mâché and food.
It is important to note that even with these precautions, papier mâché should not be used for long-term food storage or with unwrapped foods that require a sterile environment.
Papier mâché is a craft that has stood the test of time, offering endless possibilities for creativity.
However, the threat of insect infestation is a reality that can mar the beauty and integrity of these creations.
Understanding the attraction bugs have to the materials, recognizing the signs of infestation, and taking preventative measures are all critical steps in protecting papier mâché art.
With the right knowledge and techniques, such as using alternative adhesives, applying protective sealants, and following expert advice, crafters can effectively safeguard their work.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – A Beetle Ate My Homework!!!
paper mache—pantry beetle?
Hi there Mr.Bug man!
I am so intrigued by your website! I only wish I knew about it six months ago when we took down a paper mache tree I made for my son’s room. A few years ago, I created a three dimensional tree on his wall using school-type brown paper towels and a paste of flour and water.
My masterpiece looked even more life-like within a couple years when it became the home for thousands of teeeeny-tiny little brown beetles. I never imagined it was the paper mache tree that continually lured these little guys into his room each summer until we finally noticed pin holes throughout.
YUCK! Based on your description and photos of the pantry beetle, it would be my guess. What do you think?
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!
Sincerely creeped out,
You are so correct. They have eaten our papier mache diorama projects in the past.