Taxidermists who mount deer and other animals often need to boil parts of the animals in order to remove the flesh. However, this can be messy and can create a foul odor.
John Daniels from Elkins, West Virginia has found a hobby that allows him to help taxidermists avoid the boiling procedure by using dermestid beetles, which he raises in a colony for his company, Beetles and Bones Taxidermy.
“I got into the hobby after I killed a buck,” Daniels said. “My fellow instructor, Steve Purdum, said that what I wanted to do with the deer skull, rather than boil it to remove the residue, was to use flesh-eating beetles. He said using the beetles would be the creme de la creme. I talked to five other taxidermists, and they told me they would send me their skulls to clean if I got into the flesh-eating beetle business.”
Daniels ordered the beetles online and has used them to clean 123 deer skulls this year. He has even used the beetles to “degrease” the skull of a lion that had been shot in Africa.
“Degreasing means the fatty oils are removed from the skull so it can be whitened,” Daniels said. “After the skull is whitened, it is sent back to the taxidermist for mounting.”
Besides avoiding the mess and odor from boiling, Daniels favors the beetles because they don’t damage the finer bones.
“Boiling skulls destroys the really fine nose bones,” Daniels said. “When a beetle cleans a skull, the bones stay in place and are not further damaged by high heats.”
This short, time-lapse video shows dermestid beetles cleaning a deer skull:
Besides Mr. Daniels, others are using beetles for similar purposes.
For example, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is using them to prepare skeletons.
Also, the Smithsonian’s osteology laboratory in Suitland, Maryland employs what they call the “beetle chamber” to reduce animals to their skeletal frames.