— This developing article by Jerry Cates was first published on 23 January 2014, and revised last on 26 January 2014. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 15:01(01).
Travel with me on a fascinating journey, through the thickets and brambles of what is presently known about the carpet, hide, and skin beetles — i.e., coleopteran insects in the Dermestidae family, referred to henceforth as dermestids — found on the North American continent. These are minuscule creatures, many so small that their presence in our homes, landscaping, and gardens goes unnoticed. Yet, they impact our lives in a myriad of ways, both directly and indirectly. Therein hangs not one, but a multitude of tales.
Dermestids and Forensics (Including Crime Scene Investigations)
When a forensic entomologist studies a dead body that was not found until some time had elapsed after death occurred, a tally is made of the insects associated with the corpse to ascertain the approximate postmortem interval (PMI), or time since death. The species of insects found infesting dead bodies, and the stages of development exhibited by each species, serves as an efficient — though esoteric — measure of PMI. Dermestid beetles are important components of the forensic art, because they do not begin infesting dead bodies until 5-11 days after death, when the decedent’s tissues have begun to dry out and harden.
Dermestids and Skin Lesions on Living Beings
Not only do dermestids infest dead bodies, but their influence extends to live bodies as well, though — most of the time — via a circuitous route. Some dermestids do feed on live tissue, but most do not. An example of the former is the common hide beetle, Dermestes maculates De Geer, 1774, which generally feeds on carrion and dry animal products but is also known to have attacked and eaten the flesh of live turkeys. Conditions have to be just right for that to happen, and such conditions are not typical. On the other hand, the larval hairs, or setae, of a large number of dermestid beetle species have been found to irritate the skin of humans and other mammals. The lesions produced by these hairs mimic those produced by insect bites and stings, leading many to misdiagnose their causes.
- Kingdom Animalia — “animals”; multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; all animals are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products.
- Phylum Arthropoda (Linnaeus, 1758) — “arthropods”; invertebrate animals with external (exo) skeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages; from the Greek words ἄρθρον (ARR-thrawn) = “joint” + ποδός (POH-dohs) = “leg,” thus “jointed leg”; comprised of insects, arachnids, crustaceans, among others;
- Class Insecta (Linnaeus, 1758) — enn-SEK-tuh — “insects”; named using the Latin word insectum, a calque of the Greek word ἔντομον (ENN-toh-mawn) = “(that which is) cut into sections”; comprised of arthropods with chitinous external (exo-) skeletons, a three part body composed of a distinct head, thorax, and abdomen, the midmost part having three pairs of jointed legs, and the foremost part having a pair of compound eyes and antenna;
- Order Coleoptera (Linnaeus, 1758) — koh-lee-OPP-tur-uh — “beetles”;
- Suborder Polyphaga (Emery, 1886) — polly-FAY-guh — a catch-all group, the largest and most diverse suborder in the Coleoptera, presently divided into 16 superfamilies, 144 families, and over 300,000 species (about 90% of all known beetles);
- Infraorder Bostrichiformia (Forbes, 1926) — bah-strikk-uh-FOHR-mee-uh — a division of the polyphagan beetles containing the two superfamilies Bostrichoidea and Derodontoidea;
- Superfamily Bostrichoidea (Latrielle, 1802) — bah-strikk-OY-dee-uh — comprised of five families: (1) Anobiidae, commonly referred to as deathwatch beetles, (2) Bostrichidae, which includes the horned powderpost beetles, branch and trig borers, (3) Dermestidae, known collectively as hide, skin, and carpet beetles, (4) Jacobsoniidae, a family of beetles found primarily under bark, in plant litter, rotted wood, and fungi, and (5) Nosodendridae, known as wounded-tree beetles;
- Family Dermestidae (Latrielle, 1807) — duhr-MESS-tuh-dee — “skin beetles”; divided into six subfamilies: (1) Attageninae, consisting of seven genera, (2) Dermestinae, consisting of four genera, (3) Megatominae, containing many well-known stored-product pests, (4) Orphilinae, containing two genera, (5) Thorictinae, containing four genera, and (6) Trinodinae, containing eight genera; commonly referred to as skin beetles, a.k.a. larder, hide, leather, carpet and khapra beetles; 500-700 species worldwide; 123+ found in North America; adults range in size from 1-12mm, have rounded, oval-shaped bodies covered in scales or setae, typically but not always with clubbed antennae that fit into deep grooves; hind femora fit into recesses of their coxae; larvae are scarabaeiform and typically are covered with setae of various forms; six subfamilies are recognized:
- Subfamily Attageninae Laporte, 1840
- Genus Apphianus Beal, 2005
- Species A. yuccae Beal 2005: the only species in this genus; ref. Beal, R.S. jr. 2005. A new genus and species of the tribe Attagenini (Coleoptera: Dermestidae) from the Mojave Desert of California. Coleopterists bulletin 59(4): 489-492.
- Genus Attagenus Latrielle, 1802: 209 species distributed in tropical Africa, the Palearctic including Europe, the Near East, the Nearctic, North Africa and East Asia; includes the following species:
- Species A. pellio L. 1758: the fur or carpet beetle, an important pest damaging stored products such as fur, skins, textiles, and grain; adults are 4-6mm long, oval shaped, with an elongate-clubbed antenna, two patches of white hair on the elytra near the dorsal midline, three patches of white hair on pronotum at right and left posterior margins and at scutellum; larvae elongated with sparse setae on body of final instar but with long trailing posterior setae on all instars;
- Species A. punctatus (Scopoli, 1772): found in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Yugoslavia; adults have regularly arranged patches of white hairs on the pronotum and elytra;
- Species A. unicolor (Brahm, 1791) [syn: A. megatoma Fabricus, 1798]: the black carpet beetle, 2.8-5mm long black to reddish brown adults covered with short, sparse pubescence; the first segment of the tarsi of the hind legs is much shorter than the second segment; the last antennal segment of the male is twice as long as that of the female; larvae grow to 12.7mm, are elongate, cigar or carrot-shaped, golden to chocolate brown, with a tuft of very long, curled, golden-brown or reddish brown hair at posterior body, and covered in bristles ; larvae feed on natural fibers in carpets, furniture, and clothing; undergo 5-11 molts over larval stage of 3 months to two years prior to pupation, depending on environmental conditions; known to produce allergic reactions in susceptible individuals;
- Genus Egidyella Reitter, 1899: 2 species:
- Species E. arcana Beal & Zhantiev, 2001. A New California Species of Egidyella Reitter (Coleoptera: Dermestidae), a Genus Previously Unknown in the New World. The Coleopterists Bulletin, 55(1):70-74.
- Species E. prophetea Reittler, 1899:
- Genus Katkaenus Hava, 2006: 1 species:
- Species K. spectaculus Hava, 2006:
- Genus Novelsis Casey, 1900: 12 species:
- Genus Ranolus Blair, 1929: 1 species:
- Species R. cavernicola Blair, 1929: Malasia
- Genus Sefrania Pic, 1899: 2 species:
- Species S. bleusei Pic, 1899:
- Species S. sabulorum (Beal, 1984): Nevada
- Genus Apphianus Beal, 2005
- Subfamily Dermestinae
- Genus Derbyana Lawrence & Slipinski, 2005: 1 species:
- Species D. matthewsi Lawrence & Slipinski, 2005
- Genus Dermestes Linnaeus, 1758: larder beetles whose adults and larvae feed on dry dead animals and vegetable material; common throughout the world and considered serious pests in many locales; comprised of approx. 104 species, some of the more significant of them listed below:
- Species D. ater DeGeer, 1774: Black larder beetle or incinerator beetle; cosmopolitan in distribution, similar in appearance to D. maculatus except the elytra are not serrated; elytra appear a dark to light brown in color and have scattered yellow hairs; distinctive in that the ventral pattern is yellowish and not white; larvae easily distinguished by presence of two spines near posterior end that extend backward and are not strongly curved;
- Species D. caninus Germar, 1824: skin beetle; distributed throughout U.S. except the Pacific Northwest; attracted to stored food products and carrion of all types; found in nests of predatory birds, attracted by prey remains; overwinter in adult stage and become active during early summer months when females readily enter dwellings in search of egg-laying sites;
- Species D. frischii Kugelann, 1792
- Species D. laniarius Illiger, 1802: Dist. in the Palearctic, incl. Europe and North Africa.
- Species D. lardarius Linn. 1758: known as the bacon beetle, found throughout the world except the polar regions; Gennard 2012 p.93 states that male D. lardarius larvae pass through four larval instars while the females have five instars;
- Species D. maculatus De Geer, 1774: hide or leather beetle; a carrion beetle with worldwide distribution except Antarctica; adult is black or dull and usually hairy; often found under dead animals that have decomposed for several days, arriving 5-22 days postmortem and living 5-7 weeks; bodies of larvae covered in setae; ventral abdomen is yellowish-brown while dorsal abdomen is dark brown, usu. with a yellow line on he midline; two urogomphi on the upper surface of the last segment curve upward and away from tip of abdomen; pupa is oval, smaller than larvae, devoid of setae; first documented case of papular urticaria was caused by larvae of this species;
- Genus Mariouta Pic, 1898: 2 species: M. letourneuxi Pic, 1898 M. stangei Reitter, 1910
- Genus Rhopalosilpha Arrow, 1929: 1 species: R. wasmanni Arrow, 1929
- Genus Derbyana Lawrence & Slipinski, 2005: 1 species:
- Subfamily Megatominae Gistel, 1856: comprised of 26 genera, containing some of the best known household and stored-product pest beetles:
- Genus Adelaidia Blackburn, 1891
- Genus Amberoderma Hava & Prokop, 2004
- Genus Anthrenocerus Arrow, 1915
- Genus Anthrenus Geoffroy, 1762: small skin beetles; antennae bear small distal clubs that are plumper in males than in females; investigators have described a large number of species, subspecies, and varieties, some of which may refer to age-related distinctions stemming from loss of scales, etc.;
- Genus Caccoleptus Sharp, 1902
- Genus Claviella Kalik, 1987
- Genus Cryptorhopalum Guerin-Meneville, 1838
- Genus Ctesias Stephens, 1830
- Genus Globicornis Latrielle in Cuvier, 1829
- Genus Hemirhopalum Sharp, 1902
- Genus Hirtomegatoma Pic, 1931
- Genus Labrocerus Sharp in Blackburn & Sharp, 1885
- Genus Megatoma Herbst, 1792
- Genus Miocryptorhopalum Pierce, 1960
- Genus Myrmeanthrenus Armstrong, 1945
- Genus Neoanthrenus Armstrong, 1941
- Genus Orphinus Motschulsky, 1858
- Genus Paratrogoderma Scott, 1926
- Genus Phradonoma Jacquelin du Val, 1859
- Genus Reesa Beal, 1967
- Genus Thaumaglossa Redtenbacher, 1867
- Genus Trogoderma Dejean, 1821
- Genus Trogoparvus Hava, 2001
- Genus Turcicornis Hava, 2000
- Genus Volvicornis Hava & Kalik, 2004
- Genus Zhantievus Beal, 1992
- Subfamily Orphilinae LeConte, 1861: 2 genera:
- Genus Orphilodes Lawrence & Slipinski, 2005: 3 species
- Genus Orphilus Erichson, 1846: 6 species
- Subfamily Thorictinae Agassiz, 1846: 4 genera:
- Genus Afrothorictus Andreae, 1967
- Genus Macrothorictus Andreae, 1967
- Genus Thorictodes Reittler, 1875
- Genus Thorictus Germar, 1834
- Subfamily Trinodinae Casey, 1900: 8 genera:
- Genus Apsectus LeConte, 1854
- Genus Evorinea Beal, 1961
- Genus Hexanodes Blair, 1941
- Genus Thylodrias Motschulsky, 1839
- Genus Trichelodes Carter, 1935
- Genus Trichodrias Lawrence & Slipinski, 2005
- Genus Trinodes Dejean, 1821
- Genus Trinoparvus Hava, 2004
- Brodel, Charles F. 2008. Dermestid beetles: A Self-Tutorial for PPQ Identifiers (Part 2). USDA – APHIS – PPQ.
- Bruesch, Jay. 2011. Fabric & Museum Pests. Ch. 10 in Mallis: Handbook of Pest Control; the Mallis Handbook Company.
- Byrd, Jason H., and James H. Castner. 2010. Forensic Entomology: The Utility of Arthropods in Legal Investigations (2nd Edition). CRC Press.
- Gennard, Dorothy. 2012. Forensic Entomology: An Introduction (2nd Edition). Wiley-Blackwell.
- Goff, M. Lee. 2000. A Fly for the Prosecution. Harvard University Press.
- Háva, J. 2004. World keys to the genera and subgenera of Dermestidae (Coleoptera), with descriptions, nomenclature and distributional records. Acta Mus. Nat. Pragae, Ser. B, Hist. Nat., 60 (3-4): 149-164. Praha. ISSN 0036-5343.
- Maples, William R. and Michael Browning. 1994. Dead Men do tell Tales. Broadway Books.
- Roach, Mary. 2003. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W. W. Norton.
- White, Richard E. 1983. Beetles. Peterson Field Guides.
Feel free to call Jerry at 512-331-1111, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your experiences with, or concerns about, bedbugs, kissing bugs, dermestid beetles, fleas, mites, and ticks. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.