How Many Bugs Do I need?

Answered by an expert

“Ken:  How many bugs do I need to …?”

I receive permutations of this question multiple times weekly.  This is a really important basic question for anybody considering investing in a dermestid colony.  Using too few dermestids to finish the cleaning job in a specific amount of time will result in frustration and harm to your new colony.  Properly matching your colony to the task will prevent this.

Specifically, when you place your specimen into your colony, you have a limited amount of time before the meat that remains uncleaned by the colony not so much rots, but will instead simply dry out.  Usually, this is a matter of 3-5 days, varying by temperature and humidity, etc.  Whatever amount of “meat” that is left on (and inside) the skull or specimen, has now become too dry for the colony (and especially any newly hatching tiny larvae) to clean and obtain any nutrition from.  

When this happens, the colony is starving and you are frustrated.  You
cannot “outwait” the colony to finish your desired cleaning project…

Your skull is now 2/3 cleaned, with bits of dried meat remaining both inside and outside.  Because the dermestids were doing the job they so specialize in, there are MANY up in the dark recesses of the skull doing their cleaning job as best they can (smells good…I just can’t chew it…Help!).  

At this point, you will beat on the skull over the colony, and many will fall back to the colony.  Trust me…  no matter how long or hard you beat on the skull, when you eventually plop it into a bucket of water overnight to re-soften the remaining meat, you will be horrified to find 5% (or lots more?) of your colony drowned.  (You also now likely have soon-to-be-dried-out larvae carcasses lodged in the tight spots of your skull.)

Yes, following soaking, the remaining colony will gladly reengage with the kibbles and bits remaining on the skull/project.  If there was lots of tissue remaining, I’d suggest considering allowing your colony to grow for a bit before finishing your project.  (Any type of protein is appropriate; I feed my tiny larvae Dollar Store hot dogs.)

The 300+ colony is a minimum size to successfully begin to build a colony (of unlimited size…) of your own.    The 300+ is appropriate for cleaning bird skulls, rodents, furbearers, etc.  This colony WILL NOT successfully clean a deer sized skull without growth.  

The 1000+ colony is sized to be the minimum colony size to clean a well-trimmed deer skull in the time-window discussed earlier.  This also presumes proper container/conditions (I provide this guidance).  

If wanting to clean multiple skulls, I’d recommend adjusting expectations and cleaning the first several skulls one at a time vice trying to push a colony.  It will be important to keep a focus on the needs of the tiny larvae you are working so hard to produce, because their needs are a bit counter to those of the skull cleaner.  Again, I can provide this guidance.

 I hope this helps and I’d be glad to discuss any specifics to your situation, as well as provide quality dermestids when ready.