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Recommendations for Maintaining a Dermestid Beetle Colony (Dermestes maculatus) for Processing Human Remains

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Dated: 2020
Date Published

This technical note presents recommendations for anthropologists interested in establishing and maintaining a D. maculatus population.


Dermestid beetles (Dermestes maculatus De Geer 1774) are small carrion insects characterized by a rounded or oval-shaped body and white abdomen with black markings. Given their natural propensity to consume soft tissue throughout various stages of decomposition, biological anthropologists have sought to use dermestids as a forensic processing method in addition to traditional chemical tissue removal techniques. Although useful, most of the existing academic literature regarding the upkeep of dermestid colonies for skeletal remains processing either lack specificity or are outdated. Additionally, nonacademic sources that contain information regarding dermestid maintenance are often disjointed, resulting in a difficulty to replicate habitat construction and ideal environmental conditions. The recommendations presented in this technical note are based on the authors’ experiences in using several dermestid colonies to process five unembalmed human heads procured from an anatomical gift company for a larger study on gunshot trauma. Aspects of the dermestids’ environment that are crucial for the management of a healthy colony include the type of bedding, food, water, and containment method used, in addition to maintaining appropriate temperature ranges (24–27°C) and humidity levels (35–73 percent). Although habitat construction and dermestid maintenance involve materials that are relatively inexpensive and readily available, setting up and maintaining a D. maculatus colony can be laborious and time consuming and should only be undertaken when the volume of casework is such that this investment would be offset. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020