In our years in the skull mount business, I still laugh when people walk into the shop and cringe from the smell. Even the most hardened hunter who has field dressed many animals, winces a little bit the first time they catch the aroma of Dermestid beetles at work when they show up to drop off their deer skull for processing. So why do we choose Dermestid beetles?
Why Dermestid Beetles?“Perfection,” is the simplest explanation. Dermestid beetles clean every ounce of tissue from the bone structure of a skull, leaving even the most intricate bones intact.
While there are other effective methods for producing European style skull mounts, these other methods run a high risk of damaging minute bones, like the nasal bones of this bobcat skull (pictured above).
Beetle cleaning offers a great option for trophy skulls that are to be scored, as there is no water in the cleaning process that can potentially cause the bones to shrink. After the beetles have cleaned the skull, we allow the skull to dry for the required 60 days (Boone & Crockett/Pope & Young) and have the scoring completed prior to the degreasing process. Once scored, or after the beetles finish with the skull, it needs to be degreased, whitened, and finished to the desired end result.
But What ARE Dermestid Beetles?
Utilizing beetles to clean bones and skulls has been an accepted practice by taxidermists and museums for years. The common term for these types of beetles is Dermestid beetles. Dermestid beetles exist in nature, and are often found feeding on the flesh of dead animals. Beetles will clean a skull completely, even into the smallest nasal passages and canals, without damage to the bones themselves.
There are over 500 species of beetles found worldwide that fall into this category. Museums commonly utilize beetle cleaning for bones and skeletons to insure all tissue is removed and the bones are not damaged. Given optimal breeding and feeding conditions, beetle colonies can reproduce and grow infinitely.
Using beetles for a European skull mount sounds simple, in that the beetles do most of the work. Given time, the beetles will eat all the tissue on the skull, including the hide and the brains; however, proper prep work helps to expedite the process. A healthy beetle colony can clean a properly prepped large bear or deer skull in less than a day and can handle bigger game like moose in just a few days.
Although removing all tissue is only the first step in preparing a perfect skull mount, it is an extremely important choice so that when completed, you are left with a trophy mount that you are proud to display!
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