Freak Week: Blood-curdling Beetles
Posted On: 10/31/2016 - 12:28pm, Posted By: Emily Imhoff, Collections Manager - Zoology
Welcome back and Happy Halloween! We've saved our most fearsome post for last: Blood-curdling Beetles!
Nothing says “horror” quite like the phrase “flesh-eating bugs.” Here at the Museum’s research center we keep colonies of Dermestid beetles (“der-MESS-tid”), Dermestes maculatus. In nature, these beetles are scavengers that find dead animals and consume the meaty parts. In captivity, we provide them with the carcasses of animals that are donated to us. The beetles eat all the muscles, ligaments, and even the brains and eyeballs. Once the carcass has been skeletonized, we will wash it thoroughly in the laboratory. Then it is ready to be re-articulated for display, or boxed and stored for future research. In the photos, you can see our beetles hard at work cleaning bones!
A cougar skull is swarmed by beetles.
The life cycle of a dermestid beetle lasts about 4-5 months and consists of many stages. Unlike the large, colorful scarab beetles you’ve probably seen in mummy movies playing this time of year, our beetles are small and black. The adults are most interested in mating and laying eggs to keep the colony growing. The larvae, on the other hand, are the champion eaters! After hatching from eggs, young beetles look like small hairy caterpillars, and they have quite an appetite. The larvae will eat and get larger, molting several times as they grow. Although an individual beetle can’t eat a lot on its own, thousands of beetles can clean a small carcass overnight. To give you an idea what I mean, the first photo shows a swarm of beetles on a cougar skull we cleaned this summer – you can see the teeth sticking out of the ball of beetles! The second photo shows a penguin skeleton nearly cleaned. With the beetles spread out a little more, you can clearly see both adult and larval beetles (at the bottom center, you can see them side by side).
The beetles work on a nearly clean penguin skeleton.
We hope you have enjoyed our Freak Week series! Be on the look-out for more posts from the zoology group at Cincinnati Museum Center.