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Mounted trophy buck just food for carpet beetles

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

For a deer hunter, a mounted trophy buck is the prize of a lifetime, the result of years of relentless tracking, studying signs, honing skills and finally bagging the perfect specimen for the den wall. For carpet beetles, it's just lunch.

"Carpet beetles, or dermestids, eat anything of animal origin -- fur, feathers, skin," said Dan Suiter, a University of Georgia Extension Service entomologist.

"Since it's deer and duck season right now, I suspect some successful hunters will be mounting their trophy bucks," Suiter said. "It'd be a shame if they didn't protect them in future years from dermestids."

Dermestids (der-MESS-tids) are small, fairly innocent-looking beetles. About three-sixteenths of an inch long, the adults are oval insects that look a little like ladybugs with fall sweaters on.

The larvae are about the same size -- one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch long and hairy. They look something like miniature woolly bear caterpillars.

Fairly common

And they're fairly common. If you look closely enough, you may find them along the baseboards, quietly feeding on human or pet hair, insects or other dead animal matter. "They're a lot more common than most people would think," Suiter said.

Now that lady beetles are congregating inside houses in the winter, he said, he's finding dermestids feeding on the dead beetles. "You can find them inside lights, too, in globes that collect dead insects," he said.

(Museums with large insect collections must periodically fumigate, he said, at great expense to keep their inventories from disappearing. Other museums, though, use dermestids to get prized bones pristinely clean.)

The larvae do the most feeding damage. Fortunately, they're not into fast food. "They move slowly," Suiter said. "You don't notice they're there. Then one day you look closely at that mounted trophy and realize the fur or the feathers have been eaten away."

Second wave

Their moseying pace puts them in the second wave of carrion feeders in nature, he said. Flies and other faster creatures get the fleshy parts, and the dermestids clean up the rest.

Dermestids can make a meal of wool clothes, fabrics and anything else of animal origin, he said. They probably owe their common name, Suiter said, to the damage they did to rugs and carpets when they were more often made of wool and other animal fibers.

"Most carpets are synthetic fibers now," he said. "So dermestids don't bother them. We don't have much trouble with clothes moths, either, because so many fabrics are synthetic now."

For people who have mounted deer, turkeys, ducks or other animals, it's a good idea to know what the taxidermist has done to discourage dermestids.

"Some of them insert moth balls inside the mount," Suiter said. "And that works. But even then, eventually the moth balls will dissipate, and if you're not checking closely, you can end up with a lot of damage."

Check closely

It's best, he said, to check closely every few months for signs of damage. If you find signs of dermestid feeding, you have two main choices.

"If it's a small item, you can just put it into a freezer for two or three days," Suiter said. "That will kill the insects."

If it's too large for that, some pest-control companies have fumigation rooms where, for a fee, they can fumigate your trophy mount and get rid of the dermestids.

"There aren't a lot of companies that have those rooms, though," he said. "So you have to look for them."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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