Whether you’re a taxidermist who needs clean skulls, a hunter looking for a fresh trophy, or an artist or museum curator, dermestid beetles are efficient and thorough. These beetles used for taxidermy clean skulls and prevent damage from boiling or chemicals. You’ll need anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of beetles. To maintain a large colony, you need the conditions for beetles to thrive throughout their life cycle.
The enclosure must have the right conditions for eggs, which hatch in three to four days; larvae, which grow and molt over 44 days; and pupae, which take up to eight days to become adults. Adult beetles live up to five months. The bugs consume flesh in their larval stage. While you can buy beetles online, the living environment must support both growing larvae and adults that lay eggs. An example of this type of environment is as follows:
Flesh-eating beetles don’t need a lot of room. A confined space is fine so long as plenty of food is available. A plastic tote, insulated chest freezer, or aquarium will do (just remove the corner silicone if using an aquarium, as beetles can climb up this). The container should be big enough to hold the item being cleaned.
You can line the container floor with mammal bedding from pet stores, cotton wadding, or even shredded paper. An inch of material is good enough for the beetles to live in. Some Styrofoam should be added as well. It provides a place for larvae to burrow into and pupate. Over time, the container bottom will become coated in powdery “frass,” which is a combination of chewed-up Styrofoam and beetle waste. Scoop out frass that’s more than a few inches deep, damp, or caked up.
Warm temperatures are needed to keep the beetles active. The ideal temperature range is 65 to 85°F. The beetles can’t fly unless the temperature is over 80°F, so it’s best to keep things cooler than that. Although heating lamps are effective, a ceramic heating fixture or a reptile heating pad is best, as dermestid beetles prefer the darkness.
Everyone likes some fresh air, but air circulation has many other benefits for your beetle colony. Rest a screened lid and frame over the top of the container. It can keep out other insects and pests, such as mites and flies. Circulation also prevents mold from growing inside.
Food and Water
You might not always have a specimen for your colony. However, beetles still need to stay nourished. Scraps of meat or fish can help provide your colony with a steady food supply, which will help it grow to support your taxidermy process. To provide a source of drinking water, spray the specimen or food source with water or keep a moist paper towel on the container bottom.
Healthy, happy beetles yield the best skull cleaning results. Browse our website for more information on containers and caring for your beetle colony, or contact us today for assistance.