Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    You Don't Want to Read about Bow Bugs While You're Eating

    By Diane Bruce

    If you are currently eating, you should click away from this article and read it later. If you are eating, then dermestids are eating too... and their appetite is pretty nasty. If you're lucky, they'll only be eating your wool sweater. But they might be eating feathers or they might be eating your dead skin. They might be devouring an animal carcass somewhere. And if you're very unlucky, they might be eating the hair on your bow. Thankfully, we have a solution and prevention strategy for these pests.

    Dermestids (or "bow bugs") are a family of 500-700 beetles that are a couple of millimeters in size. Most dermestids happily eat shrubs as adults, but as larva, they enjoy natural fibers, such as bow hair. These beetles are everywhere; they are in your house right now. You probably don't see them much (or at all) because they prefer munching in dark places that you are not likely to notice, such as under your bed or in your attic. When they are snacking on bow hair, they usually eat near the tip or the frog. They aren't considerate enough to just eat one hair in its entirety; they will take little bites out of several hairs so that your bow hair will be everywhere in your case except attached to your bow. Oftentimes, when people bring old instruments into our shop for repairs, bow bugs have been at work for so long that the case has bow hair sticking out in all directions.

    Since bow bugs like dark, uninterrupted spaces, it should stand to reason that the best way to obtain bow bugs is by leaving your case closed. You don't have to do anything else; bow bugs will come to you. It only takes a couple days for a bow bug or two to find their way into your case and start noshing, molting, and noshing some more. The best way to prevent bow bugs is to play your instrument regularly. The daily exposure to light should be enough to keep bow bugs at bay.

    How do you know you have bow bugs?img Cases with bow hairs hanging out are a great indicator of bow bugs, but if you have not played for just a brief period of time, the evidence might be more subtle. Sometimes you can open up your case and find a newly acquired bow bug at work. While they don't like light, they don't necessarily instantly flee when they are exposed to it. If you see a grub-like creature on your bow hair, you can be sure you've seen one. If they are elsewhere in the case, you may see them burrow into the linings. Sometimes live bugs are not readily visible. If you don't see a live bug, you may very well see casings. Bow bugs molt, leaving behind a redish-brownish segmented shell. If you are not sure whether or not you have bugs, it is always safest to err on the side of caution.

    What can you do if you've acquired bow bugs? The first thing to do is to take a deep breath and remain calm. These bugs are gross, but they are not going to hurt you. It can help your nerves to bear in mind that an infestation of bow bugs is not the same as an infestation of ants; you probably only have a few bow bugs in your case. Once you are ready to remove the bugs, you should vacuum out your case. After your case has been vacuumed, it should be left open in the light for a few days. If there are any bow bugs remaining in the case, they will leave the case to find some other dark place in your house. Above all, do not spray pesticide in your case. This can damage your instrument.

    If too much bow hair is eaten by bow bugs, unfortunately, you will need to get your bow rehaired. This is no cause for embarrassment; we see bow bugs and bow bugged hair all the time. As with any pest, we understand that sometimes you did something to attract them and sometimes you did very little. We won't ask if it was your short vacation or a general lack of practicing that caused you to acquire them. However, we will advise you on how to prevent bow bugs from eating your hair in the future; as much as we like the money from rehairing your bow, bow bugs are really gross to us, too!


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