Dermestid beetles are also known as hide, carrion or skin beetles. They are bugs generally associated with decomposition, and can be found under dead and decomposing animals. They are usually black or dull colored and hairy, and range from 2mm to 12mm in length. Female dermestid beetles tend to be bigger than males. Dermestid beetles are often used to clean the flesh off skeletons, especially small animal skeletons with delicate bones. Scientists, museums and universities often grow dermestid beetles because they do not damage skeletons, unlike harmful chemicals, making them a great alternative for cleaning skeletons used for scientific research.
Dermestid beetles have a life cycle of about 45 days, and they go through a complete metamorphosis from egg to larvae to pupal to adult. An adult dermestid beetle lays eggs that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. A few days later small larvae hatch from these eggs and immediately begin feeding on the carcass. The larvae will molt about eight times as it grows to maturity over about 30 days, and it is during this stage that the beetles do most of their skeletal cleaning. When the larvae reach about 30 days old, they find a quiet place to pupate. After seven days, an adult dermestid beetle emerges, and within a couple days the adult beetle is laying four or five eggs a day, starting the process over.
Larvae and adult dermestid beetles feed on a variety of animal products, including dead animal flesh and meat, dead fish, furs, leather, cheese, feathers and various dried foods. In some cases they have also been known to eat chocolate and other cocoa products. The larvae eat more than the adult beetles, but adult beetles do continue to feed. Feeding rates can vary depending on the size of a colony and the larvae-to-adult ratio, but according to Troy’s Skull Taxidermy, his domestic, population-controlled colony has sometimes cleaned two full deer skulls in a single day.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab uses dermestid beetles to clean the bones of animal carcasses submitted as evidence for wildlife law enforcement teams. The FWS freezes a submitted carcass for 72 hours to prevent another bug colony from infecting the dermestid beetles, and then it is given to the colony. The colony is closely monitored, however, because while the beetles will first feed on flesh, they will then move on to eat nails, hoofs and horns, so a carcass must be removed in a timely manner.
While dermestid beetles are not known to feed on living flesh or to be particularly dangerous, they are considered quite the household pest. If you are suffering from a Ddermestid beetle infestation, the chances are you have a dead animal carcass somewhere in the area. These carcasses may be hard to find as it can be something as small as a rat or a bird, but finding and removing the carcass will also remove the bugs. The bugs should also leave naturally once they have consumed their food source. If you practice taxidermy or are studying animal carcasses for educational or scientific purposes, make sure they are kept in sealed, most desirably, frozen states.
When raised in captivity for bone-cleaning purposes, dermestid beetles are kept in containers made of metal, glass or thick plastic to prevent escape. The habitat is usually layered with a bottom of absorbent cotton or wood shavings, topped with sponges or foam. The habitat is kept humid and in a dark location, with a ventilated lid.