Taxidermists depend on their dermestid beetle colonies to produce crisp, clean specimens. A single colony may have hundreds to thousands, to tens of thousands of beetles, but it takes time to get your colony to start feeding. It is important to understand dermestid reproduction before you start growing your colony and expecting the beetles to do their job. Here, we will look at dermestids’ life cycle so you can achieve your taxidermy goals.
Life Cycle of Flesh-Eating Beetles
Dermestid beetles have a relatively fast life cycle. From hatching to adulthood, it takes up to 65 days. All the while, beetle larvae feed on flesh and find their groove for bone cleaning. Eggs are often laid in the food source, and the colony becomes self-sustaining.
Freshly laid eggs hatch in four days. If your colony is well-fed, you can get two to four dozen eggs in a month per female beetle. At this rate, your colony can grow fairly quickly, and you can get your beetles to take on larger and larger specimens.
The larvae are initially the size of a pin head and molt seven to nine times over a five- to six-week period before burrowing into the substrate. They form a pupa and emerge as an adult beetle about a week later. Female beetles can start laying eggs in two months. A single beetle may only live four or five months but can consume a significant amount of flesh in that time. Multiply this by thousands, and you can have a flesh-free deer, bear, or any other skull in a reasonable amount of time.
It generally takes 90 days to cultivate an established colony. Assuming a female lives about 100 days, she can lay over 400 eggs during this time. Yet, the health of your colony isn’t only about fast reproduction; the environment the beetles live in is equally important if not more.
How to Maintain Your Colony
To sustain your colony, you’ll want to keep up the pace of reproduction as well as feeding. The environment you need to provide your beetles should include:
- A Sizeable Container: The container doesn’t have to be huge; a 5-gallon aquarium is fine to start with, and you can always transfer the colony to something bigger later. An aquarium, plastic tote, or chest freezer can provide adequate housing for your dermestid beetles.
- Substrate: The bottom of the container must have a substrate the beetles can live and burrow in. Cotton balls, shredded paper, or mammal bedding can be used. Even cotton wadding from an old mattress is sufficient. Add chunks of styrofoam for the larvae to burrow into.
- Water/Humidity: Beetles need water to survive. Although they get plenty of it by feeding, there may not be enough while the colony is still growing. Add a damp paper towel or sponge to the enclosure and the beetles will flock to it to get a drink. Also, keep the humidity between 50% and 60%. Any more can result in mites or mold.
- Heat/Light: Ideally, the temperature should be between 70℉ and 80℉. Any higher and the beetles may start to fly away. The enclosure temperature should be above 65℉, as this is when dermestids are most active. You want to keep them feeding and reproducing as much as possible!
Light levels should be low or dark. Therefore, don’t use a heat lamp; the best solution is a ceramic heating fixture that doesn’t emit light or a reptile heating pad.
Food is also a major factor in getting your beetles to reproduce. Whether you have a taxidermy project or are in between projects, the beetles will need to continue eating. They don’t care whether you provide a fresh skull. You can put scraps of meat, fish, cheese, or even dry dog food in as a maintenance diet. Just don’t wait a week or two before adding a food source, as having one is critical for sustaining the growth of the colony.
The best meat is whole meat that includes protein, fat, and connective tissue. Ground meat doesn’t provide flesh-eating beetles with the diet they need.
How to Speed Up Dermestid Reproduction
The environment must be favorable for them to thrive and reproduce. Attracted to rotting meat, the beetles will lay eggs in slightly moist meat. The food supply should be sufficient. Make sure there’s at least three days worth of food at any given time, so the beetles will continue laying eggs. Food should not be too dry.
The ideal breeding temperature is around 80℉ but dermestids will reproduce at room temperature, just not as quickly. Keeping the temperature close to that threshold will help them reach their full reproductive potential while avoiding giving them the ability to fly.
Start Off with a Full Healthy Colony
Maintaining the dermestid life cycle is essential for enabling your colony to reproduce and multiply. It also helps to get a head start with a thriving colony. We provide you with a healthy colony in a tight container and include instructions on starting, maintaining, and growing your colony based on years of experience.
Dermestid beetles also create a sawdust-like material called frass by chewing on the medium at the bottom of their container. It should be removed after it collects a few inches deep. We include it with shipping as it helps insulate the colony and helps beetles survive a trip in the mail. Once you receive your package, you can start caring for your colony so that dermestid reproduction can take place.
Contact Kodiak Bones & Bugs Taxidermy
We supply dermestid beetles for taxidermists, hunters, and artists. If you’re ready to have a colony that will start eating and reproducing, we can ship them directly to you. We are licensed professionals who can provide everything you need to clean and prepare your trophy skull. Dermestid beetles eat only animal flesh and are completely harmless to humans. Other processes can damage delicate bones and structures, but dermestids will leave behind a perfectly preserved skull.
If you want, you can also ship your skulls to us, and we’ll put our own beetle colonies to work. However, if you don’t mind caring for your own colony, we’ll send you a complete kit to get started. Contact us with your questions or comments to learn more.