When a skull is fully cleaned by dermestids, with no tissue remaining, they will generally mostly abandon the skull for greener pastures. However, there will often be several (perhaps several hundred if there are still hints of meat) dermestids that will remain in the brain cavity, sinuses, and other recesses of the skull.

Initial Removal Process

Holding the skull over the colony and banging on it or carefully rapping it on the container will cause the majority of the dermestids to bail from the skull and fall back into the colony. Repeating this process a couple of times will recover most of the dermestids. However, no matter the amount of banging and handling of the skull, many dermestids will still remain in the skull. It is often very surprising just how many dermestids remain in the skull and can be recovered.

Temperature Change Method

To remove the remaining dermestids, I have found that a rather rapid temperature change will cause the majority of the reticent dermestids to bail from the skull. Following the banging process, I put the skull in a shallow Sterlite plastic tote and remove it from the warm bug room to my cooler shop. A couple of hot dog slices in the tote also helps entice the remaining dermestids out of the skull. A day out of the colony in cooler conditions will be adequate to recover most of the dermestids. Do not rush this process; you will be shocked just how many bugs can be remaining up in a “clean” skull.

Final Steps

The degreasing/bleaching process will generally wash most remaining dermestids from the skull. There will almost always be some dermestids sacrificed during this process. However, if there are very high numbers of dead dermestids that appear in the degreasing process, this will be a cue to ensure more time to allow the dermestids to exit the skull.


Removing dermestid beetles from a skull can be a meticulous process, but with patience and the right techniques, you can recover most of them effectively. Whether you’re a professional taxidermist or an enthusiast, following these steps will help ensure your skulls are clean and ready for display.

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