Are There Really Bugs That Eat Flesh?



There is a room in the back areas of the museum where specimens are placed in order for them to be cleaned.  An army of workers is responsible for cleaning the specimens of all their flesh.  But how do the workers keep from damaging those tiny, fragile bones?  Well, the process begins with specimens that are collected; donated; and delivered from all over; pretty much all over everywhere-  Many specimens that I saw this week are victims of building strikes, unfortunately a common obstacle for birds in these big cities.  As good as birds are at adapting to environments they can still fall victim to these huge monuments.  BTW – A program is underway in Chicago to curtail the damage to these species, please use this link to find out more.

After specimens are collected and their skins prepared for storage; display; cataloging; and study the remaining skeleton (with it’s remaining flesh) is placed into a special chamber within a special room, a room that I will call ‘The Bug Room’.  In these chambers are, well, a lot of bugs.  Commonly termed flesh-eating bugs, these critters, called Dermestids are fabulously good at picking away flesh without damaging bones!  This means that skeletons from big to small, from fragile to robust, can be effectively cleaned and the skeletons do not get damaged.

There are one or two caveats.  First of all the room has a sweet smell that has been described by some as --  interesting. And the second caveat is that the room has a set of doors, which act like an air-lock but instead of separating air, the doors are meant to separate bugs from the rest of the museum.  I don’t imagine that most people in the museum’s storage areas want a bunch of flesh-eating beetles having access to their specimens.  The path to this room is quite a journey through a maze of hallways and I’ve included a short slide-show to take you there.  Enjoy- if that is even the right word.