Frequently Asked Questions
Dermestis maculatus (A.K.A. flesh-eating beetles, hide beetles or taxidermy beetles) are the most widely used beetle for cleaning skulls and bones. They are a small insect belonging to the Cleopatra family along with over 500 other varieties of dermestid beetles worldwide and are native to all the United States. In the wild, they are scavengers feeding off once living organisms, typically arriving on scene after a carcass becomes too dry for fly maggots to survive.
Dermestid beetles have been used by natural history museums and taxidermists for over 100 years in the preparation of skeletal specimens. What makes them so ideal for home specimen preparation is that they require minimal care, reproduce and thrive at room temperature, and can not fly at temperatures below 80°F. Skull cleaning with Dermestid beetles is far superior to the method of boiling specimens in water to remove meat and tissue. Boiling can destroy or loosen bone structure especially on small specimens like rats or mink. Beetles can thoroughly clean a specimen without damaging the delicate nasal bone structure and get inside all the crevices and cavities that hold fat or tissue. To some, more importantly is the fact that cleaning with beetles results in minimal bone shrinkage which can be a factor in scoring trophy class game heads for the record books.
You are buying premium Dermestid Beetles from a licensed taxidermist and professional biologist who knows about quality control. Our beetles are from 100% healthy colonies and guaranteed to be free of mites and invasive pests. Don't be fooled by other sellers who provide only the adult life stage or a species other than Dermestis maculatus. Our beetles are sold year-round, and grown specifically for resale. We are not a seasonal business just operating in the fall and you can be assured that you are not purchasing somebody’s leftover beetles. As professional biologists and licensed taxidermists, we raise these insects in a closely monitored environment to ensure healthy colonies that are guaranteed to be free of mites and invasive pests. It is essential that any colony you purchase contains a complete life cycle including eggs, larvae, and adults in order to thrive and grow. All orders from Boneyard Beetleworks contain a good composition of beetle life stages for your success. You will receive a FREE copy of our Quick Start Guide and we are available before and after the sale to help you with questions and concerns. We strive to have completely satisfied customers and do all in our power to ensure you receive a healthy order of beetles and are successful with your projects.
We actually have counted and validated the number of adult beetles and larvae in a 1 oz. volumetric measure. Each order begins by separating the live beetles from 95% of the frass and bedding. This helps us get a more accurate count of how many beetles we are sending you. We proceed by measuring out the respective quantity of adults and larvae and then ADD an additional 10% to account for any mortalities that may occur during shipping. Next, we add bedding substrate and frass that contain 1000’s of eggs waiting to hatch. For example, In a 1oz. order we measure out 600+ adults and larvae and add 10% for a total of ≅ 660 beetles. We estimate 1000 eggs waiting to hatch may be contained in the frass, bringing the total order to over 1,600 beetles. We strive for transparency in our operation and want you to be happy with your order and experience success.
The simple answer is that it all depends on what you want to achieve and how quickly you want to complete a project. Beginning with a small 1oz. starter colony will save you money up-front, but it will take time for the colony to grow large enough to handle cleaning a deer sized skull in a couple days. On the other end, a 6oz. colony is large enough to efficiently clean a properly prepared deer skull immediately. Under ideal conditions, a 6oz. order can clean 1 properly prepared deer skull in as little as 7-10 days. It can take a 1oz. order of beetles upwards of 6 weeks or more to clean a properly prepared deer skull. If you have the time for your colony to grow you can save money by purchasing this size. Otherwise, we recommend going with the 3oz., 6oz. or larger orders if you want quick results.
Dermestid beetles can be kept in any suitable container that they cannot chew through or crawl out of such as metal, plastic, or glass. Many colonies have been kept in aquarium tanks, used chest freezers, and plastic containers (specifically Sterilite brand). If you do use an aquarium, make sure to remove all the silicone in the corners to prevent beetles from crawling up the silicon and out of their container. Any container must also have an adequate cover to prevent beetles from escaping, yet still allow for some ventilation. A good secure cover will also prevent foreign insects from entering the container and contaminating your colony.
Beetles can be fed almost any type of meat. Use meat you have left over in your freezer, road kill, scraps from the butcher or wild game processing, dry dog food, and of course your skull and/or skeleton projects. We recommend staying away from processed meats such as hotdogs and sandwich meats because of their high levels of sodium. Any food, skulls, or skeletons introduced into the container as feed should be frozen for at least 24 hours prior to feeding, unless it is your leftovers. This will eliminate the possibility of introducing maggots or other undesirable insects into your colony.
You should begin feeding your colony with scrap ribs, chicken bones, or small pieces of leftover meat. This will help you determine how quickly they can consume meat without building up a lot of odor from decomposition. You can then graduate to an appropriate amount of meat. Food items should never be placed directly on the bedding substrate where excess moisture might accumulate. Plastic, glass, or metal trays can be used for this purpose. If the tray has a slight lip on the edge it will help keep the larvae from carrying small bones away.
Many newcomers are concerned about the odor produced by an active colony. However, proper specimen preparation and a properly ventilated container with an appropriately sized fan can eliminate most offensive odors. If you are really concerned about odor there are ways to construct active airflow systems that will exhaust air and odors to an outside location. Any ventilation you provide must not be excessive to the point that it desiccates (dries out) the young larvae or pupae. Removing as much flesh from your specimen prior to placing it in your container will also help to minimize odor. Although brain matter is one of the best things to feed beetles, it is also what produces the foulest odor as it decomposes.
Temperature Range: It is best to maintain temperatures in the container between 60ᵒ - 80ᵒF with a heat pad, ceramic heat lamp, or red heat lamp. By utilizing the upper end of this range, you will maximize colony reproduction rates. FOREWARNING: At temperature above 85ᵒF adult beetles can fly.
Humidity Range: All portions of the Dermestid beetle life cycle are moisture dependent. You will need to provide adequate ventilation and still be able to maintain a relative humidity of less than 50%. When humidity levels exceed 50% the colony becomes more susceptible to mites and mold growth. To prevent mites, mold, and other moisture related detriments to your colony try to maintain your container at the lowest acceptable humidity level. Most consider 30%-50% relative humidity to be safe and acceptable. Placing an inexpensive temperature/humidity gauge in the container will help to monitor ambient conditions.
Substrate: Suitable substrate, or bedding, is necessary for larvae to molt/pupate and it must be kept dry. You can try using Styrofoam, non-cedar wood shavings, dog food, or cotton/poly batting. It is not recommended to use paper products or cardboard since they can often contain chemicals or insecticides that can harm your colony. Never wet your substrate with water when you mist you specimen or specimen tray.
It is important for your colony to have adequate water or available moisture. If you feed your beetles raw meat you can be less concerned about providing them with water to drink. To provide adequate water you can “mist” your colony with a fine spray from a clean bottle once a day but do not saturate the substrate. Pet stores sell specialized reptile misters, foggers, watering dishes, and water gel capsules that can all provide an adequate source of available water. A jar lid upside down with a sponge and water also works well. Just replace the sponge when it gets nasty looking. Make sure that the beetles can get in and out of the watering dish without drowning.
Boneyard Beetleworks ships all orders with a Live Arrival Guarantee. To maintain the quality of our beetles, we ship orders from our facility on Monday and Tuesday via Priority Mail with the USPS and they typically arrive in 2-3 days. However, we can’t control USPS delivery delays due to weather or transportation. We do ship throughout the year and package according to season and destination. Winter Shipments include a 3-day heat pack. A tracking number is provided for each order so that you can arrange to receive your package upon delivery.
We make every effort on our part to ensure your order of Dermestid beetles arrive alive and healthy. If there is a problem with your order and you have complied with our conditions, we will work with you for quick resolution.
Conditions: You must take possession of your beetles within 2 hours of delivery at your home or business. Do not allow the beetles to sit around in the heat, sun, or cold…they will die. If this is not possible, please request that we mark your shipment “HOLD AT POST OFFICE FOR PICKUP” along with your phone number in the notes section during checkout. A USPS hold is free of charge, and they will contact you when your package arrives. This greatly increases the chance your beetles arrive alive in extreme weather. It is your responsibility to track the order in the USPS system with the supplied tracking number. If the beetles are delivered to a PO Box or held at the Post Office and not picked up within 24-hours of arriving the Live Arrival Guarantee is voided. If beetles are not accepted on first delivery attempt, the Live Arrival Guarantee is voided.
We always add an additional 10% of beetles in each order to account for any loss that may occur during shipment. If more than 10% of the beetles arrive dead and you have met the conditions of our guarantee, we will work with you to resolve the issue. IF YOU SUSPECT THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ORDER DO NOT BREAK THE SECURITY SEAL AND CONTACT US IMMEDIATELY. Broken seals will void your Live Arrival Guarantee. For any claims, you must contact us within 2 hours of delivery and provide video to confirm the condition of the beetles. If all conditions are met for the Live Arrival Guarantee, we will either issue a refund for the portion that died, less shipping, or ship you a fresh order equal to the amount that died. Shipping costs are final and are not refunded.