Did you know that there are five times more volunteers than staff at the Royal BC Museum? These hard workers perform a myriad of tasks, all geared towards the museum’s common goals.
Not counted among those hundreds of volunteers are some that have never been given an opportunity to shine. Instead they are kept in a small, dark, windowless room in the basement that is kept at 25-plus degrees and very high humidity. They are, however, fed regularly. Surprisingly, they seem very content!
These “volunteers” perform a very different form of service: they are the beetles that carefully clean the bones for the bird and mammal collections. They eat the flesh off of everything—including delicate bird bones—without damaging the skeleton, work even the most careful person could not do. All they ask is for a warm dark place and regular feeding.
The beetles in the Dermesterium (the official word for the colony) at the Royal BC Museum are Dermestes maculatus. The larvae do most of the feeding, but because adults are needed to make more larvae, the colony is home to a mix of ages. Adults are relatively long-lived and unable to fly at the temperature they are kept at, so they are relatively easy to house. This species does not like to eat feathers, hair, skin or bones, making it an excellent choice for cleaning off tissue without endangering the rest of the natural history collections, which are also kept as far away as possible.
Although the Dermesterium is not open for public viewing, you are welcome to visit as often as you like on this page. A camera is set up on the colony and it refreshes every five seconds, so you can watch a skull get cleaned and ready for research right before your eyes—without the smell!