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Watch Flesh-Eating Beetles Strip Bodies to the Bone | Deep Look

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Channel: Deep Look
Categories: Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science  
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Dermestid Beetles are fast and fastidious eaters. They can pick a carcass clean in just days leaving even the most delicate bone structures intact. This makes them the perfect tool for museum scientists-- if you keep them far, far away from valuable collections.


In nature, Dermestid Beetles are death-homing devices. They’ll find a dead body about a week after death and lay eggs in the drying flesh. The larvae emerge with a voracious appetite, outgrowing their skins six to eight times in just days before pupating, becoming adults and flying away to start a new colony.

These Dermestid Beetles at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley are direct descendants from the original colony established in this museum in 1924. The process now used at museums around the world was pioneered here. These are the beetles you see here in this flesh-eating beetles time lapse.

Scientists in the prep lab downstairs receive nearly a thousand carcasses a year. It’s their job to preserve each animal for long-term use in the collections upstairs. And the work is not for the squeamish.

What makes beetles ideal for cleaning museum specimens is that they’re fast and fastidious eaters. They can pick a carcass clean while leaving even the most delicate bone structures intact.

It takes a large beetle colony 24 – 48 hours to clean the bones of small animals like rabbits and owls, and they can work on 100 - 200 specimens at a time. Larger animals like deer or coyotes take about a week.

But the alliance between beetles and museum is an uneasy one. Downstairs the beetles are a critical tool. But if Dermestids got loose upstairs, they could wreak havoc in the library stacks, munching through specimen drawers and ruining entire collections.


KQED Science:


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KQED Science:

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by HopeLab, The David B. Gold Foundation; S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Vadasz Family Foundation; Smart Family Foundation and the members of KQED.

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