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Energy from Death

Energy from Death
One creature’s end is another’s beginning.

A decaying carcass makes a perfect meal for an assortment of scavengers, including the dermestid beetles you can see in this exhibit. As they feast on these carcasses, the dermestid beetles and their larvae get their energy and nutrients from the dried flesh, skin, and other tissues.


What’s going on?

While it may appear there are two distinct scavengers at work in this exhibit, they are actually one and the same—dermestid beetles—in their smaller, brown, larval stage and as larger, shiny, black adults.

Demestid beetle and larva
Demestid beetle and larva

Dermestid beetles are used by museums and bone collectors—and now and then by criminal investigators—to clean the flesh from specimens.

Creature corpses of all stripes have found their way into this decay display: cats, rats, snakes, frogs. Most often what you’ll find here are rats intended as pet food, purchased online and delivered frozen.

Going further

In this exhibit, dermestid beetles have the carcasses to themselves, but in the wild, they compete with many other insect scavengers.

On a fresh carcass, most of the insects are flies. Dermestids and other beetles arrive later on in the decomposition process. The types of insects on a carcass can help forensic scientists estimate how long ago the animal died.

External resources

Flesh-Eating Dermestid Beetle Time-Lapse. © 2014 California Academy of Sciences.

Living on Death. © Denise King.



IMLS acknowledgment

This web project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0175-16].


IMLS acknowledgment

This web project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0175-16].