Dermestid beetles, also known as carrion or hide beetles, are small insects that feed on decomposing flesh. Dark-coloured and usually hairy, they are often considered pests. But for many taxidermists, museum collections and forensic labs, dermestids are an excellent tool to clean the flesh off of bones. They are cheap, relatively easy to raise, and highly effective bone cleaners.
Lay cotton batting on the bottom of the tank. This provides the beetles with a substrate for burrowing and also helps absorb excess moisture.
Place several shallow bowls of water around the enclosure to increase the humidity. Dermestids need a humid environment, but it should not be so moist that you have visible condensation. Put cotton inside each bowl to keep the beetles from drowning.
Affix the heating pad onto the tank. Dermestids are active at temperatures above 60° F, and most content in a habitat closer to 85° F. If you keep the colony in a naturally warm environment, you do not need to use a heating pad.
House the colony in a dark location. Carrion beetles do not react well to direct light. For this reason, it is also important to use a heating pad rather than heat lamps to keep the temperature near 85° F.
Contain your colony. Dermestids can be useful, but are also still pests. To prevent them from escaping, lay out a line of borax surrounding the tank. Borax is caustic on the beetles' exoskeletons and will kill them if they attempt to cross the line.
Introduce the beetles to their new habitat. You can order dermestids online in quantities of 100 to several thousand. The amount you buy depends on your goals for the colony; if you start with 100 adults then the colony will need time to mature before it is capable of cleaning larger bones such as skulls or entire skeletons.
Feed the colony. Dermestids do not eat freshly decomposing bodies, so you need to give them bones with partially dried flesh on them. If you are planning to keep a skeleton to assemble later, place it inside a shallow cardboard box to keep it separate from the cotton substrate.
Periodically check for tiny white mites, an indication of too much moisture in the habitat. If you find mites, first try to decrease the humidity in the box. If this does not work and your beetles begin to die off, you will need to start from scratch with a fresh colony.
When removing bones from the colony, freeze them for several days to eliminate the possibility of introducing dermestids to your bone collection.