Carpet, Flesh-Eating and Trilobite Beetles: Strange Insects

This is an adult varied carpet beetle. The larvae destroy carpets.
This is an adult varied carpet beetle. The larvae destroy carpets. | Source

Interesting and Successful Insects

Beetles are fascinating and abundant insects. The group contains some strange members, including carpet, flesh-eating and trilobite beetles. The larvae of varied carpet beetles feed on natural fibers and can destroy carpets, clothing and furniture coverings. Museums use flesh-eating beetles to strip the flesh off animal bones so that the bones can be displayed. The insects are also useful in forensic science. Female trilobite beetles have a flattened body that is covered by segmented plates and reminds researchers of the ancient trilobites that once roamed the oceans.

Beetles are very successful insects. One reason for this success is thought to be their wing structure. Most beetles (but not trilobite beetles) have a pair of thick and tough forewings called elytra on the surface of their bodies. When the beetles take off for flight, they raise the elytra out of the way to reveal the more delicate and membranous hindwings underneath, which are used for flying. The elytra help to protect the hindwings from injury as the beetles move over land.

A carpet beetle on an oxeye daisy
A carpet beetle on an oxeye daisy | Source

Beetle Classification

Phylum Arthropoda

Class Insecta

Order Coleoptera

There are different families within the order Coleoptera. Carpet and flesh-eating beetles are classified in the family Dermestidae and are sometimes known as dermestid beetles. Trilobite beetles are classified in the family Lycidae.

The larva of the varied carpet beetle damages carpets and is sometimes known as a woolly bear.
The larva of the varied carpet beetle damages carpets and is sometimes known as a woolly bear. | Source

The Varied Carpet Beetle

The varied carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) is an attractive insect in both its adult and its larval form. It has a widespread range and is found in many countries. The larva can be an extremely annoying and destructive pest in homes.

Varied carpet beetle adults have a blotched brown, orange, yellow and white appearance and are covered with scales. They feed on pollen and aren't pests. They are short-lived compared to the larvae, however. A larva is covered with brown hair-like structures called setae and looks furry. It's often called a "woolly bear". (This term is also used for the larvae of some other insects, such as the caterpillar of certain moths.)

The larvae of varied carpet beetles live between one and three years. This could be bad news, since they feed on many different things in our homes. They eat the natural fibers in our carpets, clothing, upholstery and tapestries. They also eat animal hair and skins, leather, feathers, silk, horn, dead insects, other dead animals, dried meat and pet food. They eat some plant material as well, including ground grains, cereals and spices.

Living Carpet Beetles

Beautiful Insects

Although many beetles are black in color, some are beautiful. Metallic and iridescent sheens, attractive colors and interesting patterns produce a lovely appearance.

How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles

Pest experts say that one of the best ways to prevent or get rid of a carpet beetle infestation is to follow good housekeeping practices. It’s important to vacuum carpets and areas where the beetles hide, such as shelves, baseboards, corners, cracks, the area behind radiators, inside heating ducts and furniture and along the edge of carpets. It's also important to get right to the back of a crevice with a vacuum. The vacuum bag needs to be discarded after use.

Infested clothing needs to be thoroughly cleaned or thrown away. Heating infested items in a hot dryer for an hour or more or cooling them in a freezer for several days can kill the beetles, according to pest controllers. Once it’s certain that clothing contains no beetles, it should be stored in a sealed chest or in carefully sealed plastic bags.

A serious carpet beetle infestation may need professional help. The beetles sometimes hide in nearby wasp and bird nests as well as in homes, so it's important to watch for new infestations once one has been eliminated.

Dermestes maculatus, also known as the flesh-eating beetle and the hide beetle
Dermestes maculatus, also known as the flesh-eating beetle and the hide beetle | Source

Flesh-Eating Beetles in Museums

The species of beetle that is most often used to clean skeletons is Dermestes maculatus. This species is sometimes called the hide beetle. It's native to Canada, continental USA and Hawaii but is also found in Europe and Asia.

When museums have a mammal or bird body which they would like to "skeletonize" for display, they sometimes place their flesh-eating beetle colony in contact with the body. Both the adults and the larvae eat flesh, but the larvae do most of the work in cleaning bones. The beetles may be used in preference to a chemical method of removing flesh, which can damage the bones.

Flesh-eating beetles have to be used with care. Like carpet beetles, they will eat fibers from living things, including paper fibers. They must be kept away from books, wood, carpets and stuffed animals in museums.

Dermestids (Adults and Larvae) Cleaning a Rabbit Skull

Other Uses of the Insects

Wildlife Law Enforcement

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service operates a forensic laboratory. The lab uses beetles to skeletonize partial or damaged animal remains in order to positively identify the specimens. This can be useful in investigations related to wildlife law enforcement.

Forensic Science

Flesh-eating beetles are also helpful in forensic science, which is used to investigate crimes. The presence of the beetles on or in a dead body can be used to estimate the time of a person's death, for example. The presence of adults, larvae and the beetle's feces provide significant clues for a knowledgeable person. The recent daily temperatures where the body was found are important, since the time needed for the beetle to complete its life cycle is different at different temperatures.

Home and School Use

Flesh-eating beetles are offered for sale to the public as “Dermestid Beetles”. People use them to clean the skeletons of dead animals. If the beetles are kept in a home or school, though, they must be contained or kept under control to prevent problems. If they can't find animal flesh they will feed on other material if they can get to it.

A Trilobite Beetle in Laos

Trilobite Beetles

Trilobite beetles are strange but little-known insects that have been found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and India. They belong to the family Lycidae and the genus Platerodrilus (or Duliticola in an older naming system).

A female trilobite beetle looks very different from other beetles. Her body is flattened and is divided into segments that look like plates of armour. The plates are decorated with knobs and projections. The head is tiny in relation to the size of the plates and is retractable. The beetle’s appearance reminded early observers of extinct marine animals called trilobites. Some of the females that have been discovered are colorful and beautiful insects.

Make trilobite beetles appear to be much smaller than the females and seem to have a typical beetle appearance. The fact that the genders are so different in both appearance and size makes it hard for researchers to recognize that they belong to the same species.

A female trilobite beetle in Borneo
A female trilobite beetle in Borneo | Source

Neoteny

In many insects, the egg hatches into a larva. There may be several larval stages. The final stage changes into a pupa, from which the adult emerges. The adult has a very different appearance from the larvae. Female trilobite beetles stay in the larviform phase their whole lives (although they do molt and grow bigger), a phenomenon known as neoteny.

A Glowing Insect

The Life of a Trilobite Beetle

Trilobite beetles are thought to feed on microbes in the plant liquids obtained from rotting wood. This is by no means certain, however. They may survive on fungi and slime molds. They may even be predators and hunt for prey, which may include other insects and snails. The beetles don't have wings and explore their environment by walking.

Some trilobite beetles are bioluminescent, which means that they can produce light inside their bodies. In other bioluminescent beetles, the light is produced when an enzyme breaks down a chemical called luciferin, producing energy as light. This may be the method by which trilobite beetles produce light, too. Other beetles use bioluminescence to attract prey or mates or to warn would-be predators that the beetle tastes bad.

A Bioluminescent Trilobite Beetle in Thailand

The Importance of Research

Beetles are intriguing insects and are interesting animals to study. Many affect our lives, sometimes significantly, so understanding their anatomy, physiology and behavior is important. It's also important that we know how to support the lives and reproduction of useful species and how to control the harmful ones.

There are almost certainly many more species of beetles still to be discovered on Earth. Perhaps some of them will be as strange as - or even stranger than - the carpet, flesh-eating and trilobite beetles.

© 2011 Linda Crampton

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Comments 20 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Nasty looking things! Very informative hub. This is one I will remember reading.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, Susan. I can see how people could think that some beetles look nasty - especially the flesh-eating beetles - but I think that they're interesting too!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Ohhh......ugh---when my kids were young, we had an infestation of carpet beetles. We had to evacuate the house, pets as well, for a whole day, and use an "overdose" of flea bombs.

I've heard that before, about how museums clean their display skeletons...kind of gives me the shudders walking through the halls...what if they escaped???? :-O

Voted up & interesting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment and the votes, DzyMsLizzy. Luckily I've never experienced a carpet beetle infestation. The infestation that happened to you sounds very unpleasant.

I'm sure that museums take good care of their flesh-eating beetles in order to protect the rest of their specimens!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

That lilac coloured trilobite beetle almost doesn't look real! You always find such unusual things to write about Alicia, and this is another fascinating hub


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks a lot, CMHypno. The lilac trilobite beetle does look like it's painted! There may be more brightly colored beetles still to be discovered, too.


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

I agree, ugh! but interesting as usual. Thanks for the info


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Danette. I appreciate your visit.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi Alicia, I think they are horrible things, but you made them so interesting! A great hub as usual and voting up, best wishes MM


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and vote, MM. Best wishes to you too. I'm sure that if I was experiencing a carpet beetle infestation I would think that the beetles were horrible too, but at the moment I find the beetles that I've described interesting, but not horrible!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

What an interesting and informative hub this is. I have learned so much. Didn't even know about carpet beetles. Now, please excuse me while I vacuum my carpet! Voted UP.

vocalcoach~


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, vocalcoach. Yes, I'm determined to vacuum my carpets and corners more thoroughly now that I've created this hub! Thank you for the comment and vote.


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

What is it about bugs in general or Carpet Beetles that make us all so squeamish? EVERYTHING. After reading your Wonderful and very Informative Hub, I've certainly learned a lot Alicia, of the good, the bad and the ugly of these STRANGE BEETLES. Thanks a lot...I think...Really! Good Hub! Another Vote UP!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks a lot, b. Malin. Carpet, flesh-eating and trilobite beetles are strange creatures, but I like just about all animals, including insects!


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Alicia, you have great information here. Actually, I had never know about this before. I just now about "bug" which is live on my carpet. Thanks for completed this hub with stunning pictures and the video as well. Well done and vote up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for the vote as well, Prasetio! Beetles are interesting creatures to write about.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is a fascinating subject although I truly hope that I never see such beetles in our home. We regularly vacuum and also clean our carpets because of shedding dog and cat hair in addition to regular dust and such...but now I have another reason to be vigilant. I have seen mounted displays of beetles in our Natural Science Museum and the colors of some of them are extraordinary! Voted up, interesting and definitely useful. (Stay away carpet beetles!!!)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Peggy. I hope that I never find carpet beetles in my home too! Yes, some beetles are beautiful - they don't all have dark colors. Thanks a lot for the votes.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

It is very interesting to read about these fantastic insects. Even though they are small they are so well adapted to their environment and that is the beauty of them! But I also prefer not to have them in my home:) Voted up and interesting, I always learn something new from you,

Tina


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Tina. I think these beetles are fascinating too, but like you, I'd rather not have them in my home! Thanks for the visit.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,250 Followers
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    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.



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