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How dermestid beetles help rot down bodies


Last Sunday I got a surprise email from a a lady called Professor Sue Black. Professor Black is a famous professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee, and she found my website when she was looking for a picture of a swan furculum (I have one and I wrote about it here). She invited me up to the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification which she runs to see their dermestid beetles.

This is what dermestid beetles look like. They are a special kind of beetle which eats flesh from bodies, but leave the bones and cartilage behind without any damage. Bone collectors and museums use them to clean specimens. Sometimes police forces have to use them too to see how someone was killed from the damage to the bone.

I was really excited and yesterday me and Dad arranged to go up to visit. A really nice lady called Lucina who looks after the beetles met us and took us down to the beetle room. It was a room with no windows which was kept quite warm because the beetles prefer it like that. In the room were two big crates. Each crate had lots of sawdust at the bottom, lots of beetles, and the animals parts they were eating.

The beetles went away at first when the lights came on, but they came back when Lucina sprayed the crates with water. The beetles are quite small, and if you put them on your hands they don't bite you or try to eat you.

There were lots of animal parts they were eating. There was a sheep leg, a seal skull, a roe deer, a sheep, and lots of other animal parts. Some were already down to bones, like the roe deer and seal skulls, and some were still fleshy, like the leg. The brown bits you can see on the sheep spine is the flesh that they have been eating.

This is the beetles on the roe deer ribcage:

A lot of people would have found this really gross (that's why I've put a Too Scary For Girls label on this post), but I didn't, because I've seen lots of animal bodies rotting before. There was a smell of the flesh rotting, but it wasn't that bad. You could smell it when you first went in, but they you got used to it.

Below is the sheep leg. The black bits are fur. For some animal parts, Lucina has to cut some of the flesh, otherwise the beetles wouldn't manage to eat all of it before it started to rot. Sheep and deer legs are all right though, because they haven't got much flesh on.

This last picture is a seal skull, which was my favourite bone in the beetle room because I hadn't seen one before. Lucina had found it herself on the beach. She said beaches are a good place to look for seal bodies. She gave me lots of tips on animal bones, and helped me with some of my bones where there were things I didn't understand. I showed her my broken red deer leg and she thought it was really cool.

It was a really cool visit even though I was a bit nervous and shy. It was brilliant to see dermestid beetles, and these was the only beetle room of its type in Scotland. A big thank you to Lucina and Professor Black for letting me visit !

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Unknown said...

The only girls that this post is too scary, for are the girls that don't hunt and the girls that play with dolls.

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