Cleaner Crew for Live Insect Colonies - Dermestid Beetle Larvae

Author: Chris Read   Date Posted: 5 December 2019 

Dermestid Beetles for Your Pets


Recently PetWave received a call from Tony one of our loyal customers in Northern New South Wales. Tony is a large breeder of native and exotic finches who buys bulk live mealworms online through PetWave. During finch breeding, live insects such as mealworms are required to ensure healthy eggs, chicks and young birds.

Tony rang to report that he found some stowaway live insects in his online live mealworms. He described these insects as grey furry larvae living in the bran that the mealworms are stored in. Tony was seeking reassurance that the extra insects were of no concern.

Upon investigation, it was discovered that some sneaky Dermestid larvae had been present and in the organic bran substrate that was fed to the live mealworms. It is known that stowaway insects can occur in any organic bran since by definition it can’t be treated with pesticides, as that would kill the mealworms or other live insects online also.

We learnt that Dermestid larvae are actually sold in Europe and USA as dedicate live insects and are often called the “Live Insect Colony Cleaner Crew”.

Dermestid larvae are sold to people with live insect colonies as a natural way to keep insect colonies clean, since they feed on dead insects, decaying plant material, moulted skins and insect faeces. Dermestid larvae have amazing cleaning habits which result in the prevention of mould and bacterial growth in live insect colonies.  They do not compete with live feeder insect colonies.

Dermestids are also called flesh eating beetles and they are also used to produce a clean skeleton by eating the flesh off dead birds and animals. Amazingly, most animal carcasses can be skeletonised by a few thousand Dermestids within two days.  

The life cycle of the Dermestes Beatles insect are:

  • the eggs of Dermestes Beatles hatch in about 4 days;
  • the tiny larvae go through about 10 moults over approximately 6 weeks;
  • they then burrow where they form a pupa;
  • after a week, they emerge as a beetle;
  • after 8 weeks, the female beetle lays eggs.

Dermestid beetles will live happily in a live insect colony functioning as the “Clean Up Crew”, so long as moisture levels are not too high. They are not dangerous to live healthy live insects in Australia and can be fed to pet reptiles and birds. 

Once he understood the situation, Tony was relieved that he actually received a bonus and fed some of the Dermestid beetle larvae to his finches who happily gobbled them up.

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