Ask The Entomologist question about insects in lacquerware

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I have a lacqueware decorative vase made in Vietnam. It has something in the vase that burrows from the inside to the outside leaving a powdery dust on the exterior of the vase. When I look at it under a magnifing glass I can see tiny holes. This is freaky. Something living in this clay type pot is alive! Now I keep it in the garage. I need to let someone in science know this is happening. I don’t want to spread this “thing”.

The art of making lacquerware is a 400 year old Chiang Mai tradition. Lacquerware is entirely handmade. Lac Resin is produced by insects from sap taken from fig trees. Objects are not made of solid lacquer; the liquid lacquer must be brushed onto a substructure which determines the shape of the object.   Generally, the substructure is constructed of seasoned wood.  The Lacquer– or the wood substructure in lacquerware, is susceptible to insect damage, particularly wood destroying beetles.  If you are noticing holes (about the size of a pinhole, with clean edges) and a sand-like material (frass) on or under your piece, you probably have an infestation.   Generally, we would recommend freezing the item for 3 to 4 days as an effective, non-toxic method of killing insects, however, it is possible that the lacquer may be damaged by a freeze cycle. Therefore, it is probably safer to have the lacquer fumigated. If you know of someone who is having their house tented, ask them if you can include your piece (it is usually not difficult to find someone close in Florida having their house fumigated) ; otherwise contract with a reputable firm like Terminix  (1-800-Terminix) to have the piece placed in a chamber for fumigation with Vikane®. Never spray a pesticide directly on lacquer– the chemicals could damage the surface.