I need a question answered about dermestid beetles that I have had for 1 year: 6/8 of my colony has been lost (died) and I would like to know why? I have a tin box surrounded by 2'' of Styrofoam and all held together with 3/4 plywood. 30''x30''x32 measurements. heated with a 150 watt red flood outdoor lamp hooked to a thermostat,with a humidifier set on a timer. The 150 went out and I replaced it with a 250 heat lamp,thats when the beetles started to disapper,maybe I killed them with the heat lamp but others I know that have beetles use the heat lamp. I also notice I now have small beetles that are not dermestid , is this bad and then I also tried the test and found no mites, so? . And also my skulls were drying out so I put the larger skulls--moose,buffalo,elk,deer-- in plastic with the bottom cut out and the beetles would do a great job of cleaning them before all this happened.The smaller ones--bear,lion ,etc I will place a cloth over them and they like that also. The humidity is about 50%. I live in western part of Montana, it's cold here but the box stays right at 75 with the light, would anyone know of another way to heat the box instead of a light but they must stay out in a outer building and not in my taxidermy studio, just for safety reasons. If anyone could please help me with any ideas I would be appreciate it but please remember this is Montana. Thank you PS I just started another smaller colony,about 20 beetles( I only have about 10 left in the larger box out of 6 to 700 ) in a small glass box built just like the larger one
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I started a fresh colony of beetles. As my house is heated with oil via a furnace, i simply place the beetles by the furnace in the winter and in the summer they head out to the garage. I surprised to hear that you were able to clean skulls with a colony of beetles of only 700. I have at least that many and it takes them quite awhile to do something as simple as a deer head. I'm hoping for a beetle explosion in the next month or two. If it happens, I can send you a few hundred hopefully.
I'm looking for a cougar skull. Do you have access to any? I'm willing to pay up to a hundred for a mature green skull with perfect teeth.
Let me know and drop me a line a 6-8 weeks regarding a booster supply of beetles.
I started a bug colony a few years ago after researching them. I thought I was ready. Little did I know that I wasn't. This past year (2003) alone I have introduced 6 new colonies to my converted fish aquarium and now deep freezer. The bugs have been a pain in the a$$. ANy how they would eat some skulls very quickly and others they would not touch for months. This spring when it warms up I am trying one more thing and if that doesn't work where I can get a consistent turnaround then the hell with it. Someone elses bugs can clean my skulls. I have had to leave deer skulls in for months when some guys I know have colonies smaller than mine and they clean a deer skull in 24-48 hours. Good luck. Dan Hudzik
The maintenance of a consistently effective healthy colony is not that easy - unless you have learned the best methods. It took me a couple years to figure it out in the late 1970's but I probably didn't get real good at it till circa 1982. I, and others have entered a lot of tips on how to run a colony on this forum for a number of years, and combined with a search on relevant literature, and a desire to succeed, a colony may work. But not everyone can be a good dermestid colony operator, just like not everyone can be a world-class taxidermist.
Dermestids, in my humble opinion, are still the most effective method of cleaning skeletal material. But in many cases, it may be best to send out your skulls to commercial outfits that have years of experience and consistently produce skulls of superior quality. Just because Carolina or others sell you a handful of bugs and give you cursory information on how to run a colony, there is no guarantee you can actually succeed in making money at this phase of taxidermy. The info on this WASCO sponsored Taxidermy.net, and the Yahoo Skull club, is collectively the most complete "manual" on how to run a dermestid colony and to clean skeletons. However, you must read the archives completely and chose whose information to follow in relation to what environment you will be running to colony in. Maintenance varies depending on whether to colony is in Florida or Alaska.
Now to the question at hand - The key problem that I could suggest without an on-site visit or a longer description of the set-up would revolve around this sentence in your post.
"I also notice I now have small beetles that are not dermestid"
You NEVER want to introduce any live insect from the wild into your colony. Wild dermestids can bring into the colony, parasites like mites or lice, diseases that can kill your colony, viruses, etc. Secondarily, if you introduce a skull, it could have spiders, or fly larvae, pseudoscorpions, or any other sort of bug that could predate the captive colony. THIS is my supposition. You allowed entrance into your colony a species like the red-legged ham beetle, which is about 1/2 the size at adulthood of the dermestid beetle. Red-legged Ham beetle aren't true dermestid beetles (not in Dermestidae) but they do eat dried meat. However, they also EAT dermestid beetles.
People who operate dermestid colonies need to follow what in the Museum Community has been called "integrated pest management". This term was designed to prevent pests from getting into vertebrate entomologic/ or botanical collections. First you have the collection clean, perhaps by a professional fumigation. Then, you NEVER add any specimens to the collection that has not been fumigated or frozen. That is to say, for a museum the size of the Smithsonian, they may have 2000 cases of bird skins in the collection. Whenever they lend specimens to another institution, or even withdraw them from the case for a visitor on site to examine, before they go back into the collection, they are frozen or fumigated. That way, all 2000 cases do not need to be routinely fumigated or frozen.
In the Dermestid colony care, first you have to have a healthy colony without mites or spiders or ham beetles, etc. Then, whenever you get a specimen to process, always freeze it before you put it in the colony. In summer when you prepare a skull and dry it, try as you might to prevent it, you may get flies lay eggs on it, or an occasional stray beetle fly onto it. Freezing will prevent entrance of "invaders" into your colony.
I agree with everything you said. I do beleive climate is VERY CRITICAL as to what state you are trying to raise them in also just like you said. I am not willing to give up yet. I ran into the spider problem because I didn;t freeze my skulls prior to putting them in to the colony. Boy does that suck. I also learned a very valuable lesson in over loading my colony. That SUCKS too! Hard lessons to learn but I guess everyone has to start some where. Dan
Ive been operating a fairly large colony for the past four years, processing skeletons for the museum here, and a few things that I have found:
make sure you have a good supply of cooregated cardboard squares in the colony, the cardboard gives the larvae something to burrow into to pupate, it also serves as a moisture absorbtion medium. when the cardboard gets floppy looking, I change it all out.
too much moisture will allow mites to take over, I did not think I had any in my colony, insects are well adapted to surviving in adverse conditions, all colonies have a mite or two im sure, the moisture allows them to thrive. The mites do nothing but irritate the dermestids to the point of stopping them from feeding.
if your skull is too dry, the bugs will take forever to process it, I hang our carcasses in a fume hood over night, just enough to turn the meat in to what I compare to those soft beef jerky bites. You really cannot overload a colony, as long as everything is dry and nothing rots, the bugs will get to it eventually.
I operate my colony in a room that is about 70-75 degrees F, no heat lamp. usually it can process a full duck skeleton in a week, an elk skull took two weeks, but I also have multiple things in at a time,
four years, only one crash from the moisture problem, now I keep it dry, clean out the frass maybe two times a year ( I have a large box) and I go in and give the skeletons a light spray of water in the morning, as the dermestids do need a little water.