13 October 2006

How I survived the flesh-eating beetles on Friday the 13th!

Today I was at the Delaware Museum of Natural History (DMNH) in Wilmington, Delaware. I spent most of my time working in their library. But the highlight of the day was when Jean Woods, the curator of birds, took me to see the "beetle room".

This is where they keep millions of hungry dermestid beetles that could devour an adult human in less than 5 minutes. Well, okay, I am exaggerating a little bit. They use the beetles, especially their larvae, to clean animal carcasses, especially those of birds, so the bones can be added to the museum's collection. The beetles were in a large box that you can see in the picture below.

dermestidbox1

When there are no carcasses that need to be cleaned they feed the beetles dead gulls. There was one in the process of being eaten. So, you can imagine what this room smelled like. Jean was apparently used to it, but I couldn't stand it for more than a few seconds at a time. I kept pretending I had to change the lenses of my camera so I could step outside to get fresh air (this room, although it is attached to the museum building, has a separate entrance that opens directly to the outside).

dermestidbox2

The pictures below show adult dermestid beetles (left) and a larva (right). The largest larva I saw was about 1 cm long.

dermestids

And here are some deer bones that were cleaned by the beetles. They do a pretty good job.

deerbones

So, next time you are visiting DMNH (it is a nice museum, by the way), if you feel like being grossed out, go find Dr. Woods and maybe she will take you to see the flesh-eating beetles...

Here is an old post on dermestid beetles that live in my basement!

5 comments:

clare said...

I find this fascinating. These beetles are going on my list of useful little critters (the medicinal leech and maggot (of a housefly, think)are on there already.

Anonymous said...

I once asked what if we use the insects -any coleopterans such as yours- on small mammals, i was informed by an expert that they the insects left bite marks (although not really chew the bones) which harm the bone. Maybe there is a special kind of beetle doing the least harm or it is about timing. Still experience is important in all sort of studies not to ruin a specimen for instance.

Anonymous said...

Ümit is the name by the way.

Jean Woods said...

Dermestids will chew away at both bird and mammal bones if given the chance. They will consume the skeletons of very small birds like hummingbirds if we are not careful. The solution is not to leave the bones in the colony for too long. Maggots are worse than dermestids in this regard.

Brittanie said...

I saw one of these on my bathroom wall. I threw him/her outside. Mommy doesn't like bugs. XD