Have you ever opened a violin or viola case and found this?
Your first reaction is that a mad dog or crazy kid has broken into your case and had too much fun with your gear. But you’d probably be wrong.
The most likely culprit is much smaller, and much stealthier.
This is the carpet beetle and it’s tiny, maybe a quarter of the size of your little fingernail. Its larva – the furry beastie on the left – loves munching on protein, and the protein in natural animal hair especially. Wool is a favourite, and horsehair, which is used on violin, viola, cello and double bass bows, is another.
You can confirm this measly little bug is the villain by looking at the broken ends of the hairs. They are often chewed in a distinctive way, rather than being cut clean through.
The chewed end of a bow hair
What should you do? First, don’t panic. It looks like a right mess, but it’s easily fixed, and the bugs aren’t hard to kill.
Remove the bow and its tangled hair from the case and chop the hair off with scissors – you’ll need to get the bow rehaired anyway – and throw the hair into your outdoor wheelie bin.
The bugs will still be in the case, though, hiding away. So take the instrument out, along with all those bits and pieces in the pockets, and spray the inside of the case thoroughly with fly spray, making sure the spray has reached into all the corners, pockets, nooks and crannies. Let the case dry for a few hours before putting everything back inside, in case the spray affects your instrument’s varnish.
If you feel nervous, bring it in to our workshop, and we’ll do it for you – and we’ll rehair your bow at the same time!
Some people get quite upset that they’ve been harbouring bugs. But it’s no reflection on your housekeeping. The beetles can fly, so an open window is all they need to get into your house. And an open instrument case is an invitation to lunch!
For the more scientific among you, here’s a diagram of the beastie’s life cycle.