Dermestid beetles are often used in taxidermy, as their larvae are efficient scavengers that feed on dead tissue until there’s nothing left but bone. Colonies need proper care to thrive. You’ll need a minimum of 300 beetles to get started, and 1,000 to 5,000 to achieve skull cleaning for specimens such as deer or bear.

Dermestid Beetle Life Cycle

Kodiak Bones & Bugs Taxidermy uses the Dermestes maculatus flesh-eating beetle, which has a lifespan of four to five months:

  • Dermestid beetle eggs hatch in four days.
  • Larvae grow for five to six weeks (molting seven to nine times).
  • The larvae bore into the ground or material, forming a pupa.
  • The pupal stage lasts from seven to eight days
  • Female beetles lay eggs after two months.

How to Care for Your Beetles

Whether your goal is forensic science or taxidermy, the human element in removing flesh from bone, or skeletonization, involves properly caring for your beetles.

Just as ethical taxidermy centers on using humane practices, you want to have a healthy colony living under the right conditions.

Here is what your dermestid beetles need to thrive:

  • Shelter: A plastic tote or aquarium will do, while some people use old chest freezers. The container doesn’t have to be large; the beetles will be fine, so long as there’s a food source.
  • Substrate: Beetles can live in shredded paper, commercial mammal bedding, or even Styrofoam. They’ll create a powdery material called “frass”—a combination of chewed-up material and their waste. Styrofoam is perfect for larvae to burrow into and become beetles.
  • Circulation: Screened lids help circulate the air. They also keep out unwanted bugs and prevent mold from growing. A properly framed lid will rest on top while creating a seal that also ensures the beetles stay inside.
  • Temperature: You don’t want the beetles to fly away, so keep the temperatures below 80°F. Dermestid beetles are most active at 65°F to 85°F temperatures.
  • Light: Flesh-eating beetles are typically more active in the dark. Use a heating pad or heating fixture that doesn’t emit light. These can be found in a pet store. Don’t use a heat lamp or another light source.
  • Food/water: The beetles will feed on anything dead. Give them scraps of dry meat or fish when there’s no specimen. Kodiak’s beetles are given waste fish to sustain colonies between cleanings. To keep them hydrated, place a wet paper towel in the container or spray the specimen, and the beetles will amass to drink.

These tips should help you sustain beetle colonies in your care.

For more in-depth information on raising and caring for dermestid beetles, read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions.