Dermestid News

What’s for Dinner in the Dermestid Tank?

October 3, 2017: (C. Funk) The lovely late summer weather and a feast of deer brains gave our dermestids colony a boost. They are ready for a busy fall of making skeletons for our lab!

September 13, 2017: (A. Taivalkoski) The beetles are gnawing on a couple deer skulls and legs.

September 15, 2016: The colony is munching on several small birds (two hummingbirds and a red-eyed vireo) as they finish a rabbit.

December 16, 2015: The colony has settled into their new home and are munching away on two Axis deer front legs.

December 3, 2015: The colony has grown a bit – they’ve munched through the axis pelvis, a Canada Goose, two woodpeckers, and a pigeon in the past few weeks. Today they are working on a female possum.

October 16, 2015: Still small in size and slow in munching, the colony is finishing with a small raccoon. Next up: the Axis deer pelvis we found stashed in the back of the freezer!

August 31, 2015: Our much reduced beetle colony (cooler temps in the lab and a smaller container) is working on the beaver torso. Meaty!

July 1, 2015: Beaver limbs and two robins.

May 29, 2015: The bison is done! The dermestids are now working on a small male raccoon and the Axis deer skull.

April 21 (A. Taivalkoski): The dermestids are currently working on one of the bison legs.

Our dermestid beetles feeding on a bison skull
Our dermestid beetles feeding on a bison skull

The University of Buffalo dermestid colony has been housed in a small lab inside the Primate Anatomy lab since March 2014. Dermestid beetles are better known as “flesh-eating beetles”, but there is no need to worry! Our dermestids (Dermestes maculatus) will eat pretty much any organic matter, but they will only eat decaying flesh. You are completely safe unless you are a zombie.

Our colony started in a 20 gallon fish tank when we were processing smaller specimens like squirrels, raccons, and Canada geese.  We moved our colony into a 2 ft by 4 ft galvanized stock tank in December 2014 to accomodate large animals like our new bison specimen. We set up a ventilation system in April 2015 to increase air flow for the beetle colony and reduce some of the aromas.

What are Zooarchaeologists doing with dermestid beetles? 

We are using our colony to develop a zooarchaeological reference collection. Archaeologists often find animal bones while they are excavating. Archaeological bones often are fragmented which can make it difficult to determine what element (which type of bone) or animal the bone came from. We use skeletal reference collections to identify the bones. Information about animals in archaeological sites helps to understand the history of human interactions with animals and contributes to long term environmental history studies.

Researching human | animal interactions in prehistory.