See the Flesh-Eating Beetles in Chicago’s Field Museum | Atlas Obscura

See the Flesh-Eating Beetles in Chicago’s Field Museum | Atlas Obscura


– [Man] People are always
freaked out a little bit, but mostly it’s the smell. – [Woman] Well, and there’s
a little noise to it. You can hear the sound of the beetles, especially when you have a lot of larvae in there and eating so fast. You can hear that little
(clicking tongue). – Most people are pretty fascinated by it once they get past that initial hurdle of flesh-eating beetles. My name is Ben Marks. I’m the Head of Zoological Collections and the Collection Manager of Birds. – My name is Mary Hennen, and I am the Assistant Collections Manager for the bird department
at The Field Museum. These scavenger beetles, they’re called flesh-eating beetles, the scientific term would
be dermestid beetles. They eat all the meat away, and we’re left with the bones itself. – [Ben] We use dermestid beetles to actually prepare museum specimens. And in particular, we use dermestids to prepare our huge data
set on migratory birds. – Running them through
the live dermestid colony is the most efficient way
of cleaning that meat off. – Over the last 30 years
or so, we’ve actually added about 80,000 specimens of migratory birds that have met their unfortunate demise as they were either making the race south or north through Chicago. Many of those birds
would have been swept up in the early morning
hours by building managers and thrown into dumpsters
and totally lost to science. Now those birds are actually coming here, which can be used in studies to learn more about bird
behavior in general, bird biology, and
especially bird migration. – First, you find it dead,
you bring it into the museum. It’s going to get logged
into a field catalog book, and you’re going to
record where it was found and when it was found. We’re gonna record things that
we’re going to lose as well. So we’re going to weigh the bird. It then gets photographed. It gets to the roughers, where we take the feathers out of the way. We record fat levels. We can look inside and say,
hey, it’s a boy, it’s a girl. Then a little tissue is going
to be saved for genetics. Then it becomes a process of waiting for it to go into the bugs. Our rule of thumb generally is
a passerine up to a woodcock can literally be cleaned overnight. Something larger, you
think of an owl or a hawk or a heron or something along those size, that’s going to take anywhere
from three or four days to a week to clean off. So you put something larger to
get you through the weekend, and small stuff that you can
process on a day-to-day basis. – Our dermestid beetle colony may be one of the most
productive in the United States. Every year, we prepare 4,000
to 5,000 bird skeletons that we add to our collection. And we’ve had these same
beetles here at the museum for 50-ish years. Obviously not the same individuals, but the same lineage of beetles has been preparing skeletons for us for the last four or five decades. It can be difficult to
maintain a dermestid colony like we have here for a number of reasons. Those tanks actually fill up
with beetle poop, essentially, and the beetles that have died
over the course of the year. And so, as long as we
clean out their aquaria, regulate the environment,
and keep them well-fed, they’re going to keep
producing specimens for us. – My dermestid beetles. They’re my staff.

19 Comments

  • Atlas Obscura says:

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  • Chiiuniq says:

    I hope they are paying them well. They seem to work hard.

  • Rick Gillis says:

    Dump the background music so you can hear the commentary.

  • TheWolfboy180 says:

    i already hate seeing them but it looks like good content, so have a like without a view 👍

  • Karl Marx says:

    I worked at FMNH and had a few opportunities to see these little guys in action. Amazing.

  • Amy Sternheim says:

    So the people "freaked" by the beetles I guess don't have a compost pile either! Freaked out by the natural world! LOL

  • Champagne Supernova 13 says:

    Oof guys, NOPE, can't do this video.
    Oh…but I have to tell you this!!! Yesterday y'all were on my mind.
    I woke up yesterday to a sensation on my leg that told me to look…but for some reason NOT to kick or rub with my other foot.
    I looked down and low and behold – a sweet baby grasshopper was there!!! Immediately the picture of the woman in the story you did with the insect on her face came into my mind.
    When I tried to put it out the window it ran back in and up my arm. I took the time to look at it closely (but not so closely as to put it on my face😳) Wow such a beautiful and gentle creature!
    I thought, "oh great now I have a PET grasshopper. Now I have to contact Atlas Obscura with my bug story too." LoL

    ( Problem is I have cats that thought he was pretty 'interesting' as well… so I told him he couldn't be mine 😸 and off to the backyard he went)

  • eciuj xob says:

    Horrible death for the birds but such a beautiful ressurection

  • SKONTO Я says:

    how weird

  • Barb at Loose nut productions says:

    Ok. It may sound disgusting, 🤢 but can one understand what would happen if the Beatles didn't eat the flesh off of the dead birds?🤔 The flesh would continue to rot, and become a environmental hazard, that could produce illness to all other living creatures! 😱They are mother nature's clean up crew!🌱🌎👍 Putting it in it's proper perspective, it doesn't sound all that bad!🤔

  • Luna Nightfall says:

    "Meat the Beetles"
    I see what you did there

  • Naz says:

    Amazing video! Love how humans and those little beetles work together ☺

  • Christopher Pappas says:

    I hope they get paid vacations and health care…??

  • Pratab Ali says:

    At 3:13 a sign on the wall reads "Do not open tanks". At 3:17 there's a lady opening a tank and peering in! 😂

  • Reinier Cardoso says:

    Use gloves next time 😅

  • chru cas says:

    Oh WOW, what a simple and simply fantastic and very efficient way to remove dead flesh. Sigh… I would love to have bugs that are able to remove my belly fat in a painless kind of way! 🙂 😉
    Thanks a lot for showing taping editing uploading and sharing.
    Best regards luck and health to all involved people and bugs.

  • Jennifer Adams says:

    Eww I wouldn't touch those beetles if someone paid me.. Disgusting they're like vulture..

  • David Enrique says:

    Wooot! LOVE dermestid beetles! They do some really amazing work. I've seen lots of very delicate skeletons (small reptiles, amphibians, fish) perfectly preserved by these beetles.

  • andrewwest2003 says:

    Very interesting video, but kill the annoying background music.

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