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Dermestid Beetles: Everything You Need to Know About These Small Creatures

Dermestids, skin beetles, hide beetles, and carpet beetles, all these names describe the beetles of the Dermestidae insect family. The name Dermestidae gives a pretty clear idea of what these insects actually are and what are their attributes.

Dermestidae could be broke down into something like this:

  • Derma means Skin
  • Este means to Consume 
  • Idae means Insects that consume Skin

Hence, Dermestidae is the members of the insect family that consume skin. They reproduce in numbers, so a particular nest can have thousands of larvae. There are around 700 species of Dermestid beetles and in the US alone, there are around 120 species of them.

Dermestids beetles are scavengers as they feed on dead animals and cadavers. Thus, they play a crucial role in cleaning up the environment. Outside, the larvae of dermestid feed on hair, fur, horn, feathers, or skins of the dead animals and even other insects.

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Dermestids are very unusual insects as they also feed on feathers and hair. These are something avoided by every animal species because they are indigestible. Keratin present in feathers and hair makes it difficult to digest, but dermestids have powerful enzymes in their digestive tract which allows them to easily digest uncommon things.  

The dermestid beetle species vary in sizes. They range in size from 4.2 mm to 9.5 mm. The adults are oval shaped and carry a knobbed antenna. Some of the dermestid beetle species have brightly-colored scales on their body.

The larvae, on the other hand, have a wedge-shaped body covered with long tufts of hair on their back. The size of the larvae depends on the species. The larvae are usually bigger than the adults, around 12 mm long.

Dermestid Beetles Life Cycle

Dermestid Beetles Life Cycle

Like other beetles, the dermestid beetles like warm conditions. They become active during the summer or spring time. They spend the entire winter in clefts and cracks. Summer is the time for the females to lay eggs and they enter structures or homes to lay eggs and seeking food. Depending on the species, the larvae after hatching can develop through 5-15 instars.  

Identification of dermestid colonies is very easy. They usually shed their cast skins (larval skins) near the food source. This might be the only sign of dermestid infestation. Pupation of these beetles occurs in their last cast skin. The adults after pupation have to feed on pollen and therefore, the beetles trapped indoors can be seen attracted to light or near the window sills as they are trying to get outside.

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Classification of Dermestid Beetles – Common Dermestids found in Homes 

There are hundreds of species of dermestid beetles but only half a dozen are found in buildings and homes. Some of the species are worldwide in distribution as they mostly are carried around with food products (stored).

Kharpa Beetle:

  • Kharpa beetles are one of the most common dermestid beetles found in homes.
  • The larvae are around 1.5-1.8 mm long.
Kharpa Beetle
  • They are covered with tufts of hair (setae).
  • As the larvae develop, their yellow-whitish colored body changes to reddish brown or golden and their abdomen become rounder (oval) and shorter.
  • A fully grown adult can reach up to 6 mm in length.  
  • They are commonly known as the stored-food pest as they are carried with stored food products.  
  • Kharpa beetle infestation is difficult to manage because they crawl into clefts and cracks.
  • Once they infest a building or a home, they are in for a longer run.
  • They cause a serious damage to stored products

Varied Carpet Beetle:

  • Varied carpet beetles are known for attacking typical household objects.
  • They infest wool, furs, carpets, and even processed plant or animal food.
  • They also feed on dead insects like spiders and even pollen and nectar.
  • The female can lay up to 50 eggs.
Varied Carpet Beetle
  • The larvae after hatching can develop through 7-8 instars.
  • The larvae to become a fully grown adult requires 6-8 months time.
  • The life span of adults is up to 6 weeks.
  • The carpet beetle species vary in color, size, and shape.
  • The adult can reach the maximum length of 3 mm and are usually yellow, brown, white or grayish-yellow.
  • These beetles are not harmful to humans but can cause certain allergic reactions like blisters, contact dermatitis and more.

Black Carpet Beetle:

  • Black carpet beetle is another notorious stored product pest.
  • They are the most destructive dermestid beetles as they mainly infest on keratin.
  • They can cause serious damage to household products that has keratin in it.
Black Carpet Beetle
  • Moreover, they can burrow through different food packaging, providing a passage to other insects.
  • They reproduce in numbers and a single female can lay up to 90 eggs.
  • The black carpet beetle species only one generation per year as it takes a larva around 8 months to 1 year to become a fully grown adult.
  • The adult beetle can live for 2 months and they can get up to a size of 5 mm.
  • They are shiny black to dark brown in color and have an oval-shaped body.

Carpet Beetle:

  • These are the most common dermestid beetles found in homes.
  • The larva starts feeding as soon as it is hatched.
Carpet Beetle
  • Their body is heavily covered with tufts of hair, mostly on their posterior end and hence are also referred as buffalo moths or woolly bears.
  • The larvae after hatching can develop through 5-11 instars and can go up to 20 given that the living conditions are favorable.
  • The larvae can go around 12 mm in length and are brown to yellow in color.
  • Carpet beetles are attracted towards muddy or dirty fabrics and cracks where they can find dead insects.

Leather Beetle or Hide Beetle:

  • Leather beetle, hide beetle, or skin beetle is known for infesting on cadavers.
  • They are covered with dense setae and has two spine-like attachments on the posterior.
  • The fully grown adult hide beetle has white or black sternum and dark brown forewings.
Leather Beetle or Hide Beetle
  • The adult can live up to 50-70 days depending on the environment.
  • The female hide beetle can lay up to 800 eggs.
  • They are mostly found in buildings like museums and in areas of silkworm production factories.

Larder Beetles:

  • Larder beetle larvae are longer than the fully grown adults
  • These beetles are similar to hide beetles in structure. They have two spine-like attachments on the posterior.
Larder Beetles
  • The adult larder beetle can grow up to 9.5 mm long and they tend to feed on hides and skins of dead animals.
  • The females can lay up to 135 eggs and the hatching period is around 10-12 days.
  • A fully grown larder beetle can live up to 2 months.
  • They are completely dark in color covered with scattered yellow hair.  

Dermestid Beetles Feeding Habits 

The dermestid beetles mostly feed on dead bodies, but over the years, some of the dermestid species have expanded their preference for food. Hence, they feed on plant extracts and protein. In homes, they are found infesting on spices, seeds, nuts, grains, and flour. Moreover, certain species even infest cotton and silk.

Their ability to digest keratin makes them the most unusual animals. They can burrow holes in carpets, blankets and wool clothing. The homeowners  have to forcefully call the pest control because of these beetles chewing down their carpets and rugs. Those living in hot and humid condition may experience the infestation of cloth moths.

In homes, the dermestid beetles are often found in closets where garments are stored, especially woolen or in bedrooms where hair accumulates. The adults are difficult to locate in the house and it is the cast skins or larvae that are found. People often mistake dermestids for bed bugs and therefore, they look in wrong places.

Because dermestids mostly feed on accumulated hair and feathers, it is better to look at the places your pets visit and sleeps. It can turn out to be problematic when people have indoor pets.

How Dermestid Beetles Harm Humans?

Dermestids don’t bite humans or burrow into the skin, but they can cause rashes which are very itchy and bumpy and can annoy us. 

On the other hand, their hair fibers are the reason why people become allergic. The setae of dermestids are airborne and their prolonged infestation in a house means that people can experience certain eye and respiratory infections. However, it is a slow procedure and can take years for you to become sensitized with these setae fibers.

Dermestid Beetles

How do People Come in Contact With Dermestid Beetles?

Most people don’t know but dermestid beetles can fly. An adult dermestid beetle can fly up to 3 miles, thus; they can easily enter homes and buildings. And since dermestids are overwintering pests, they get motivated to enter the buildings every year. The families who don’t have performed pest control over the years, their homes are prone to becoming hosts to these beetles. They might be living inside the walls infesting wasp nests, rodents, birds, and insects, all dead.

However, these insects do not pose any threat until they decide to move beyond the walls. They will lay eggs near the fertile areas where the larvae can easily access the food source. Things like blankets, clothing, silk sheets, wool, upholstered furniture, and carpets are a major food source for these insects.

Moreover, they are even found infesting synthetic fabrics given that the fabrics have foods, oil or perspiration soaked into them.

Can Dermestids Cause Any Other Harm?

The nickname for Dermestids is Pantry pests and yes they can cause harm to humans in other ways. Since the adults can fly, they can easily raid the pantry or kitchen, lay eggs near the easily accessible food source. Some of the beetles can bore through the tough food packaging, making a passage for other insects. They target milled products, animal food, and seeds.

Dermestid Beetles Breeding Habits

Dermestid beetles love to reproduce near an easily accessible food source. Therefore, before laying eggs, the females find a place which is very close to the food source. Once they manage to locate the desirable place with plenty of food, they look for a warm place to lay eggs. The warmness doubles the incubation process.

Dermestid Beetles

Female dermestid beetles are able to lay around 150 eggs at a time. These eggs are incubated for 10-12 days before larvae start to hatch. Once they are hatched, they will immediately search for a possible food source. They will infest on something which is closer to their nest. They will feed anything they find in hope of growing up quickly. They eat all kinds of fabrics and fiber like linen, silk, and wool. Moreover, these larvae have a thing for cocoa. They will attack the products containing cocoa in it.

As they grow, they will eat twice their body weight or even more every single day, and hence, they reach adulthood within 14 days. Once they are grown up, they will feast on different components like flowers and plants. Also, it is the time for them to seek a suitable mate in order to repopulate the species.

If you want to prevent them from invading your house, make sure that there are no wet locations in your house, except for the bathroom. Store the food items in cool and dry places. Make sure that woolen or silk items do not come in contact with any kind of wetness. Once they find a location, it will be difficult for you to stop the infestation.    

How to Get Rid of Dermestid Beetles?

Dermestid beetle infestation just like any other pest infestations is very frustrating, inconvenient and also cause certain damage to our homes. These beetles are notoriously known for infesting all kinds of clothing and fabric items.

Dermestid Beetles – Infestation Signs

As dermestid beetles are known for causing a lot of fixture and fabric damage in your house, it is necessary for you to know determine the indication or signs of the infestation

One of the easiest ways to determine dermestid infestation is to look for their feces. They eat more than twice their weight and therefore, they defecate a lot often. However, their fecal pellets are not larger than a grain of salt. But you will experience the accumulation of fecal pellets in their infestation place.

Dermestid Beetles

On the other hand, you will also see the accumulation of cast skins near the infestation area. If you see these indications of cast skins or fecal pellets near the carpet, rugs or furniture upholstery, then it is confirmed that your house plays host to the dermestid beetles. For further signs of infestation, you can look for small chewed patches or cocoons.

What Are the Damages Caused by Dermestid Beetles?

Dermestids possess the natural tendency of feeding on fabric items. This makes them one of the troublesome pests for households. The following is the list of the items in the household infested by dermestid beetles.

Carpets:

Carpets are the most vulnerable household product prone to dermestid beetle infestation. As carpets are placed with extreme proximity to the floor, it attracts dust, oil, and other food items. Carpets cover the maximum floor area, thus; it makes it an easy target for the beetles to infest without getting spotted.

Dermestid Beetles

Woolen Items:

Dermestid beetles tend to infest on certain woolen items that are not used frequently. They will probably infest on everything that has fabric in it. Items like mattresses, curtains, traditional furniture filings, etc all are susceptible to damage caused by dermestid beetles.

Dermestid Beetles

Packaged or Stored Food:

These beetles can fly and therefore, your food items in the kitchen cupboard are not safe from getting infested. Some of these beetle species can even bore a hole into the protective packaging. Items like cocoa and spices are more prone to getting infested.

Dermestid Beetles

Getting rid of Pantry Dermestid Infestation

The pantry beetles infest on food items. These beetles are brought home unknowingly. And once they find a suitable location near the food source, they make colonies. It is necessary to eradicate their infestation as they can harm the food we consume.

Inspecting Pantry Dermestid Beetles:

  • Examine the open packages or the old packages which are sitting idle for months.
  • Move these packages to a newer place and make sure to not leave anything untouched.
  • If you could, use an air blower to clean the corners and clefts of the cupboard and other areas.

Removing the Infested Items:

  • Once infested, there is no way you can use that product again; so dispose of it as soon as possible.
  • These beetles infest on a wide range of food items, so check for other food items placed next to the infested one. They take no time in spreading their colonies.
  • They have the tendency to bore into the packing, look for small tiny holes.

Using Beetle Pheromone Traps:

  • Dermestid beetles like any other beetle release a strong chemical known as pheromones to attract other beetles of the same species.
  • There are pheromone traps available that you can use to get rid of them.
  • These artificial pheromones can be used to deceive the beetles into traps.

Using Aerosol:

  • Use aerosol once you have cleared the infestation.
  • Spray it wherever you could like on the shelves, cupboards, etc.
  • Its presence will stop not only dermestid beetles but other insects as well.
  • Aerosols like Alpine PT, Microrare, and Phantom are the recommended ones.

Getting rid of Carpet Dermestid Infestation

The carpet beetles colonize near their food sources like carpets, rugs, drapes, curtains, and wardrobes with woolen and linen clothes. Thus, before you perform the treatment, you should perform these basic yet recommended measures.

Dermestid Beetles

Vacuuming the Whole Space:

  • Once you have identified that your house is playing host to dermestid beetles, the first thing you should do it vacuum the whole space.
  • Make sure you vacuum all the carpets, rugs and curtains properly because these beetles infest on everything with fabric.
  • For better results, you can spay boric acid near the affected places.

Dispose Severely Infested Fabric Items:

  • If you sense that there is no way your precious carpet can be saved, dispose it.
  • It is necessary to dispose the severely infested items because the once the colony gets bigger and crowded, these beetles will look for another compatible place to lay eggs.

Launder the Clothing:

  • It might be the most tedious task to do, but if you want to protect your clothes and house from dermestid beetle invasion, you should do it anyway.
  • Make sure all the clothing is laundered properly.
  • Launder the clothes using hard detergent and warm water as some of your woolens may be hosting the eggs of dermestid beetles.
  • Before you put back the laundered clothes, clean your entire closet or wardrobe. You can use aerosols or any other chemical or insecticide.

Recommended Insecticide Products to Get Rid of Dermestid Beetles

Before you use insecticides, you should remember that insecticide alone will not help you in removing the infestation of dermestid beetles. Insecticide with a combination of several cleanout efforts like vacuuming, etc will ensure a total removal. Insecticides alone will prove no match for dermestid beetles.

Dermestid Beetles

Aerosols:

  • Aerosols are an effective treatment chemical for dermestid beetles. But make sure to use it after removing all your valuables like clothes, food items, etc.

Chlorpyriphos:

  • You can also use the chlorpyriphos-based insecticides to clean out the dermestid beetles infested area. Chlorpyriphos kills the insects by inhibiting certain enzymes activities of the insects. However, this chemical should be used with utter care is it is harmful to both humans and pets.
  • You can combine your insecticide with an insect growth regulator

Mix some insect growth regulator with your regular insecticide before you perform the treatment.

The growth regulator will prevent the dermestid beetles from rebounding.

  • It works in a way that the growth regulator will disrupt the molting process in the larvae and will prevent them from becoming adults.
  • This will simultaneously stop their reproduction and kills them.

For managing an existing infestation, you can use the following methods and procedures.

  • In non-food areas, you can spray pyrethroid. However, this insecticide must be used in accordance with the given directions.
  • If possible, insecticides should be applied on to cracks and clefts like baseboards, edges of furniture, cupboards, etc.
  • Avoid using ‘bug bombs’, it is of no use and a complete waste of time.
  • In case, if the source of infestation comes from outside, then you should treat your house’s parameters with liquid insecticides.
  • Focus on windows, doors, pipes, vents, and all other things which can act as an easy passage for dermestid beetles.
  • It is recommended to use high-quality insecticides if you want to save your house and its valuables from dermestid beetles.

Conclusion

Dermestids are beneficial creatures for the environment as they help in cleaning up the dead plants and animals. But over the years, due to urbanization, these beetles have found human houses as the easy targets. Our houses prove to be quite a host to Dermestid beetles as it is one place where they can infest on their favorite items without any worries. Houses prove to be a perfect hiding spot for them and hence, giving us the cerebral pain.

Once they infest the homes, it becomes difficult to get rid of them as they are everywhere. Also, once an object is severely infested, it should be properly disposed to ensure that other objects and products inside the house or building are not infested.

In case, if you feel like things have gotten out of hands, you should immediately consult an expert pest control service provider as these beetles hold the power to cause severe damage to your house and its essentials.

Last but not the least, as you know these beetles carry airborne setae which is the major cause of allergies. If you experience something like irritation in eyes or respiratory system, then you should consult a doctor as the allergy may remain uprooted for some time if not treated.