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Dining With Dermestids

Adam L. Brinklow | May 14, 2014 | Story Galleries and Performance

This month at the California Academy of Sciences, you can get a look at 640 animal species's craniums during the exhibition Skulls—and for that pleasure, we have the hardworking dermestids to thank.

For those not up on their beetle species, dermestids are hardy scavengers that consume soft tissue but leave bones perfectly intact. The Academy uses thousands to help clean its more delicate carcasses for display—and the critters are surprisingly efficient. In our slideshow above, check out how long it takes the busy bugs to eat an animal bone-dry. (May 16–Nov. 30)

Walrus skull
Consumption Time: 4 to 6 weeks
The museum rarely uses the bugs for anything this large, but museum guests will get to see them work on some bigger-than-usual treats during the exhibit.

Piranha skeleton
Consumption Time:1 day
Dermestids don’t usually like scaly animals, but they can be enticed. Other museums coat fish and lizards with chicken bouillon to make them more appetizing.

Slow Loris skull
Consumption Time: 3 days
The less muscle there is, the faster the bugs finish.

California Sea Lion skull
Consumption time: 3 weeks
The exhibition includes 400 sea lion skulls, which would equate to about 23 years of work for the dermestids.

Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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