How to use flesh-eating beetles to do your dirty work (video)
Watch how this museum employs an army of bugs to finish their fine cleaning.
What could be more unpalatable than handling 1,000 dead animal carcasses each year? It's a job not meant for the faint of heart ... or stomach. There’s the peeling-off of skin and removal of organs, the collection of flesh samples and recording of stomach contents, for starters. But things get really woozy when it’s time to clean the bones of tissue tidbits. This is what scientists working at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley are tasked with during the course of a day – but lucky for them they have help with the last chore. They call in their bespoke team of flesh-eating beetles.
The troops of bugs, dermestid beetles, are direct descendants from an original colony established in the museum in 1924; it was this museum that pioneered the practice which is now used in institutions around the world. The museum plays homes to some 640,000 specimens of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, which are carefully catalogued for future reference. A vertebrate time capsule, of sorts ... a time capsule that has been cleaned into gleaming perfection by the house beetles.
If the beetles weren’t such fast and through eaters, who knows how the scientists would have cleaned some of the very delicate skeletal structures within the collections? Yet the beetles make haste of the task, cleaning a rabbit or owl in a day or two.
The video below shows the beetles in action, greedily gobbling up meat from bones like good flesh-eating bugs are supposed to do. It's beautiful to see nature at work, everyone has their job. But a warning: If quickly crawling bugs and animal carcasses and guts and skin and such creep you out, watch at your own risk.