Flesh-eating beetles help build B.C.’s extensive collection of preserved birds and mammals

RBCM collections manager for birds and mammals Anna Chinn is shown.

The Royal B.C. Museum has been collecting bird and mammal specimens for scientific research since the 1800’s. The carefully preserved animals, and accompanying data, provide a tangible glimpse into the past and how animals have been affected over time.

A recently collected bear skull sits inside a warm cooler at the Royal B.C. Museum. The box is home to a decades-old colony of Dermestid beetles, which are busily digesting flesh off the bear’s bones. Anna Chinn, collections manager for birds and mammals, says the beetles are an industry standard, and that the larvae can do a better job at cleaning bones than she can.

Chinn displays a preserved American Coot collected at Elk Lake in 1898. The Coot is a black water bird with a bright white beak found all over British Columbia. Right next to the 125-year-old Coot specimen, Chinn is preparing a recently donated Coot for preservation.

She says, the museum’s extensive collection provides researchers with a unique opportunity to study how British Columbia’s fauna have been affected by the environment over time.

The Dermestid beetles are shown working on the bear skull.


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