The University of Texas at Austin
  • Science & Technology

    Skeletons in the Closet: Flesh Eating Beetles Pick the Bones Clean

    By Jackson School of Geosciences
    Published: Oct. 29, 2012

    Warning: the following video contains graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger viewers.

    You may see a few skeletons walking about once a year on Halloween night, but a colony of voracious flesh eating beetles at the University of Texas at Austin are busy every night turning roadkill into one of the spookiest collections on campus. Tour the Skeletal Preparation Laboratory and learn how this centuries old technique continues to yield new information for paleontologists and biologists.

    • Quote 2
      Marc Airhart said on Nov. 2, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.
      Jamie, there are many variables that affect how fast the beetles work, including temperature, humidity and types of animals. Even on the same specimen, some body parts go fast, others go slow. The hawk that I followed in this video took 5 or 6 weeks. But sometimes the beetles can pick a specimen clean in just a week or two. Keeping the beetles happy is as much art as it is science.
    • Quote 2
      Rozanne said on Nov. 2, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.
      Wow that is really amazing and interesting, thanks for the video!
    • Quote 2
      Jamie Aprile said on Nov. 1, 2012 at 10:50 a.m.
      Nice video, guys! I used to know a guy who prepared all of his specimens by boiling them since he didn't have a dermestid beetle colony, and the smell was atrocious. It's good to see you are using this great natural solution to the problem. How long does it take for the specimen to be completely cleaned off?
    • Quote 2
      Marc Airhart said on Nov. 1, 2012 at 9:12 a.m.
      Theresa, that's a great question. No, the animals are already dead when they arrive in the lab. They are not killed for the research. Many were found dead in the field, others come from zoos, wildlife rescue centers, and private citizens. Some died of old age, many died from injury or disease. - Marc
    • Quote 2
      Theresa Caillouet said on Nov. 1, 2012 at 7:22 a.m.
      Are the animals killed just to obtain their skeletons or have they died of other causes?
    • Quote 2
      Andrea Zabcik said on Oct. 30, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.
      Interesting. I've never given much thought to how those bones we see in collections get so clean and white. Thanks for enlightening us on that subject. Definitely not a field of work suited for everyone, most definitely not for me, but impressive nonetheless.
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