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Beetles II

Posted on 07-02-2017 by Becky Desjardins

While I am in Texas I am spending most of my time at the University’s research campus, which is in the North part of Austin.  It is pretty big with about 20 buildings on it, including the Vertebrate Paleontology collection and the osteo preparation lab.

The collection is in a three story building, housing specimens and a busy prep lab for fossils. The osteo prep lab, where modern animal skeletons are prepared, is in another building, with tall ceilings and lots of light. This is my workspace.


There are two methods for preparing skeletal specimens. One is maceration, soaking the animal in warm water or enzymes until the meat falls off and leaves clean bones (which is what we do at Naturalis). The other is that you put the animal in a colony of dermestid beetles and letting them eat the meat off leaving clean bones, which is what they do here. The beetle colony here is really active, tons of bugs and they work very quickly!

You can’t just throw a whole animal into a tank of beetles and expect them to eat it. For one thing, the animal would rot before the beetles ate it all, and secondly they don’t eat fur or feather or scales. So you take the specimen and remove as much meat, skin, organs, etc as you can. Then you put it to dry in a fume hood. Once the specimen is like bird or mammal jerky (dried meat snack), then it can go into the dermestid room.

Possum drying

There was  a problem with the beetle colony, for which the  manager, Kenneth Bader, had a truly novel solution. The colony is housed in its own small building, and kept quite warm to keep the beetles happy. Because this is the southern USA, there is another critter that likes warm areas: cockroaches. The room had quite a problem with these pests, but you can’t spray chemicals because that will harm the dermestids. He brought in his pet Tokay Geko (a common asian species) to live in the room and eat the cockroaches. You know what? It worked! Fewer roaches and a very fat happy Tokay.

Though they do lots of bone prep, they don’t do any study skin preparation, which is where I come in. More on that in the next post...  

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