Are my bugs vegetarians?

Submitted by Scott on 12/19/2003. ( )

I'm still trying to figure out why my bugs are too slow. I clean the skulls very well with a scalpel and set them out for 2-3 days before putting them in. The box is lined with wood chips. The temp. is around 70F. I mist every 2-3 days liberally. I have a dense sponge, styrofoam, and a nesting box filled with cotton. The skulls have been in the boxes a week and I don't see that anything has been done. The meat looks like it has hardened more even though I've been misting. I had one box with two hot cultures purchased 8 months ago and I added one new culture before adding this skull. I added three cultures to a new box and added a skull. I check and regularly see new larvae. The underside of the skulls always have bugs on them and there are always a few crawling on the sides, but they aren't covered. What am I missing?

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May help?

This response submitted by Shann on 12/19/2003. ( )

I have been looking into starting a colony and this is some info I got from I guy I am going to buy my bugs from.

*Nesting Material, I use 100% pure polyester fiber.

*A small piece of Sponge to keep the humidity up, only need when your are starting a new colony. Do not apply water directly to the bedding.

*A thermostat and humidly gauge is recommended but not required. I have found that the beetles are most active in a temp of 80-85 degrees with humidity of 60%, Get it too humid and you can get lice which will destroy your colony.

*You will want to add a small piece of rotten log to your container. I look for a log or stump that has been down for a number of years and has gotten soft. The final larval stage will borrow into it and then and emerge as adult egg laying beetles.

*They like it dark, I painted cardboard panels black and then taped them to my aquarium.

*You can grown the colony by feeding it meat scraps. Start with
small amounts and wait until it gone before adding more. A colony can be maintained with dry or moist dog food, but to grow a colony, use red meat.

Hope this helps!

First off, you need a LOT of bugs

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 12/19/2003. ( )

The little "starter" colonies sent by some companies/individuals are so small that about the only size skull you could start out cleaning would be a mouse. You need to build up this colony under ideal conditions to such a size that it is capable of cleaning the size skull you wish. In order to clean a deer skull in a week period, you would need to have at least a pint of bugs, all in a large instar form. When you start with "55" individual bugs, it would probably take three to six months to build an adequate colony. A pint of bugs has thousands upon thousands of bugs in it. They can only eat AT MOST 10% of their body weight in a given 24 hour period. If you add a full well prepped deer skull to a colony with too small number of bugs, it is equivalent to putting a single person in a very large grocery store and expect that individual to eat the whole grocery store. Even to consume the produce section would take weeks, and by then, the food has gone bad - even with the mist that the grocery store has to keep the fruit/vegetables fresh. The same thing with a dermestid colony, a prepared skull is most palatable in the first few days, then despite misting regularly, it ain't as good of eatin' as it was.

I would recommend you use real cotton vs. polyester cotton, lose the wood chips, don't put logs in your colony, and skip the styrofoam. Not that a colony couldn't be maintained with these items, but they are superfluous. Museums have operated dermestid colonies for 80 years without these items, and all commercial operations are based on this model. I would read the archives on this site, and make some trips to a library to look up some of the references placed in the archives. But first, you need a LOT more bugs.

How long does it take?

This response submitted by Scott on 12/19/2003. ( )

The place I got the colonies from was Conneticut Valley Bio. When I previously asked how many came in each culture, they replied that there were hundreds of adults plus eggs, larvae, etc. They said one culture would be large enough in 3 months time so I started each box with 3-4 cultures. The last skull I put in before the bear and pig was a deer and it took about a week. One of my boxes has been growing in what sounds like ideal conditions for about 8 months. If that isn't long enough, what is and how can I speed it up? Any extra advice would be welcomed.

Without direct observation it is hard to tell you..

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 12/19/2003. ( )

...Exactly what is wrong. From this last post, it appears that you had a deer skull get cleaned in a week - well if that was the case, it should have been able to clean a bear the next week or so. Again, without seeing your situation it is hard to tell - but I will hazard another guess...

When you get a colony of bugs going, they seem to come in waves. What I mean is that, along the way of operating the colony, very ideal conditions occur for a short time and there is a large number of adults laying many many eggs. These conditions never last forever (sometimes it is the humidity, sometimes the quality of food, or some other variable). Anyhow, a week later, there is a very large number of hatchlings who then proceed to grow in a wave - i.e. they reach the latter stages of growth as a "team" and for a while, the colony eats extremely fast. However, at the end of this time, there is a pronounced slackening of the colony as the larvae prepare to go into pupation. They then bury themselves in the cotton and depending on temperatures and other factors (that vary the time needed) until they emerge to become active adults. You may have reached this lull in activity which often comes as the onset of winter - even despite maintaining a set temperature and humidity.

Seasonally in November/December I have 95% larvae in the colony, but come March/April it is probably 50% larvae, 50% adults where-upon the wave action begins with heaps of bugs in June through August. During this time if I keep lots of good food going, I can produce almost an extra quart of bugs a week.

I am not sure how many dermestids Connecticut sells you but I know Carolina Biological Supply gives you only a small amount (estimated as 55 by someone I know who actually purchased about ten packets to try to start a colony).

One comment on your first point, actually a definition. A "hot" colony is a dermestarium container with sufficient bugs to make their own heat - much like honeybees generate heat. In a cold quiet room, you can hear the activity from 5 feet and if you put you hand near the colony you can feel the heat 6 inches away. There is a certain mass of bugs needed to make this work. A company does not sell a hot culture because they would need to pack two or three heads in a container and have freflow air to even keep the colony alive in transit.


This response submitted by Scott on 12/19/2003. ( )

I'm always amazed at how much I learn on this site. After weeks of reading and researching, it always seems as if I've just scratched the surface. I had heard about being able to hear the buggers, but forgot. It has been in the high 60's here, but often bugs and animals can tell what season it is no matter what and might be slacking off or in a lull like you said. I definately cannot hear them even when I put my ear up to them. So now, should I take the skulls out and just start feeding scraps of meat until April, keep the skulls in another couple of weeks, or take one skull out of one box and pour those bugs into the other container to double their number? What d'ya think?

Perhaps you need a heated area

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 12/20/2003. ( )

Again, I may be pissing in the wind, but you do need a heated area in order to keep the bugs warm. Keeping them in a garage with a high temperature of the low-sixties will not get a lot of activity. In the winter I only usually heat to about 72 or so - the literature suggests a higher temperature but 72 will still work when you have enough bugs. If you don't have a dedicated room for your colony, one method of heating a confined area is to use an old refrigerator with shelves and have a lightbulb set on a thermostat. When the temperature drops below 70, the light comes on. The actual bulb is wrapped with aluminum foil to eliminate the light - not that they won't be active in light, but instictively they shy away from it based on evolutionary survival of the species. You may also leave the door a little ajar, or cut a ventialtion hole or two.

Humidity is best applied only through the carcasses. Somewhere in the archives I explained how to manage the feed such that new fresh recently dried material is added at least once a week. By placing plastic bags over the top of the aquarium you can retain the humidity without misting the dermestarium. Humidity will basically help with survival of the small hatchlings - i.e. if humidity is not high enough, the young will almost all die. If however you have a high fat diet - some deer tallow, coon fat applied to dried meat, duck carcasses with lots meat containing high fat amounts, etc., suvival of the bugs is much higher.

I reduce my colony number over the winter and concentrate to only 2-3 aquariums, in spring-summer-fall I can expand easily to 6-8 aquariums if I have enough food or need to clean a lot of material.

If both of your skulls are in the one dermestid box, my suggestion would be to remove one on the skulls to a sweater box or tupperware container and add a piece of fresh jerky from your store of undried meat (dried only overnight). As the bugs crawl off the skull you have in the box to eat the freshly dried meat, transfer them to the main aquarium. You may even have pupating larvae within the nasal cavities or eggs on the skull, so take plenty of time to salvage as many bugs as possible from the skull. A month later, or whenever it takes to get most off (I pull the bugs off every couple days - it takes only a couple minutes) soak the skull for a week or so in ammonia from the grocery store. It will make the meat much more palatable for the bugs. After the week, rince a minute or so in water, then dry overnight in front of a fan. Then you can add it back to your colony.

It doesn't hurt to leave a skull in your colony for a couple months or so. I usually leave the skull in long enough to have the bugs eat EVERY LAST EDIBLE PIECE. People who have never seen a bug colony run correctly have many miscomceptions about how good of job they do. I never scrape any material off - the bugs do it all. Also, aside from a long term buildup of waste products of the dermestids causing an ammonia smell, my colony smells no worse than a rack of drying jerky. I would not hesitate to eat a meal in my colony room, for the smell is not that bad.

One early publication from the 1940's actually suggested that for someone who operated the colony to get sheep skulls from an abatoire and add them to the colony on a regular basis. They simply obtained say 50 sheep skulls, prepared them, dried them, then added one a week all year long whenever you needed extra food. The skulls provided a nesting area, pupation area, and a good substrate for hiding. The only thing I do different (though I use doe skulls at times) is to keep the overnight dried skulls in a freezer to keep the meat from drying out too much. I double bag them and pull one out when I need one (usually when I go on vacation or fieldwork to keep the little bugger happy).

Good Luck !

Couple notes...

This response submitted by Raven on 12/20/2003. ( )

As ususal The Taxidermologist is offering tonnes of good information - I love it!

A couple other things...

re: logs

I avoid logs or anything taken from nature just becasue of the simple chance of infection. The chance of bringing bacteria, mites or other parasites into my colony is just too high to warrant the risk. Like TT said - it isn't required - so skipping that step is a good idea.

re: temperature

I try to keep my temp in the low-mid 70's. Again like TT said - anything in the high 60's or lower you don't see a LOT of activity. By keeping the temperature below 80 it prevents certain species of dermeste from being able to fly - a definate advantage when transfering skulls or livestock from point A to B or even just when opening the enclosure to do daily tasks on the colony. So somewhere in the mid 70's always works best for me...

Thanks again...Also I better ask now instead of waiting...

This response submitted by Scott on 12/21/2003. ( )

That is perhaps the most detailed answer I've gotten about humidity, temp. etc. Most of the time I just hear the same old keep it like this without a how. Thank you very much! Also, my bugs are in my garage, but their boxes are in insulated cardboard boxes with sheets draped over them and reptile heating pads under them. I open them up from time to time for ventilation and the boxes are never sealed shut or closed completely. I leave about a 6" window most of the time. My main worry is not how to keep them warm in the winter, but cool in the summer. We have 100+ days here. Last summer they did okay, but after learning more, I am starting to worry that they will slack off. Any ideas? Thanks again.

None, I only give information That I am familiar with

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 12/24/2003. ( )

I live where the temperature only hits 90 degrees F an average of 3 days a year (none this last summer). Running a colony of bugs makes you learn the exact parameters relevant for your exact area. In Arizona, where it is exceedingly dry, you may need to mist the specimens very much - or even dry them less before feeding them. I haven't actually misted my colony for about four years and have done hundreds of specimens.

Depending on where you live, you might even try a different species of Dermestid. Essentially all captive colonies are Dermestes maculatus but some people have used the technique of salvaging wild dermestids and breeding a species that may be better tuned for their environment. What I mean by that, is that even though the Dermestid species are essentially cosmopolitan and transferred around by man most the time, there are wild species that exist that have never been captive. A dermestid species that couldn't live in the wild in Maine, may be prevalent in Florida. One that does good in humid Florida may not survive in Arizona. I still don't know where you live, but a young taxidermist named Amethyst Taylor in Dallas, has a captive wild caught colony which may be more ideal for your area. She goes by the moniker Wolf. I could send you her address if you contact me off line.

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