Carpet Beetle

Family: Dermestidae

Carpet BeetleIdentification: There are many species of carpet beetles. Most carpet beetle adults are small, black with patches of white, oval and hairy beetles with 'clubbed' antennae. The ones encountered most often in the Northwest are 'varied carpet beetles.' Adults of this beetle are more rounded than other dermestids with orange, brown or yellow colored patterns mixed in with the black and white. Beetles are from 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch long. Larvae have a blunt head that tapers toward the end of the body.  Characteristically, the larvae will have a tuft of long brown hair at the rear end. Over all, the larvae will appear hairy with a brownish-golden coloration.

Facts: Carpet Beetles are also known as skin/hide beetles or dermestid beetles. These beetles can be a problem in the household but they are devastating in museums. Ironically, these beetles are the number one enemy to 'entomologists' (people that study insects). Carpet beetles' preferred food is dried insects, such as those found in insect collections. If not controlled, these beetles can destroy priceless collections in a very short time. Carpet beetles can also damage animal hides, bone artifacts and clothes.  Check with your local museum, they are most certainly looking for volunteers to clean material of beetles. On the other hand, these beetles are actually kept (contained of course) in museums for another purpose. Museum curators use these insects to prepare skeleton displays. They are good at eating dead animal material. A raccoon can be cleaned to the bone within a few weeks by a small colony of beetles. In nature, these insects play a very important role in recycling nutrients from dead animals.  In fact, these beetles have been used as witnesses in solving some homicide cases where a dead body was found. Based on the presence of the beetles and their life stage, forensic entomologists could estimate the time of death of a murdered victim.

Damage: The feeding larvae of the beetle cause most house hold damage. The larvae must obtain a diet high in animal protein to develop. These beetles are most commonly found underneath the carpet due to the food supply and protection provided. Other cracks and crevices also harbor carpet beetles. Here, they are feeding on your carpet fibers, lint, dead insects, hair, pet food, wool fibers, feathery down and other goodies found in your house. Wool/fur clothes, feather-decorated items, animal hides and trophies will also supply populations of carpet beetles if gone unchecked for long periods. Additionally, the insects will feed on dried, stored food such as grain products.

Most likely, you will not see the actual beetle but the evidence of feeding by the larvae. Depending on the food source, carpet beetle damage is usually obvious. If feeding on animal material, the feces (also termed as frass) will look like small pencil shavings. On other material, the frass will have more of a sawdust texture. Look for these piles forming and you can trace them back to a hole in the material on which they are feeding. Undoubtedly, you will also see some cast skins left by the beetle larvae when it molts.

Control: If you have these beetles in your home, don't lose any sleep over the idea that you are an unsanitary person; these beetles are found in most homes at some time, no matter the condition of the home. Frequently monitor stored clothes and food regularly for damage. Check undisturbed areas of your home also. If beetle evidence is found in an area of your home, clean the area thoroughly. Vacuum in all the nooks and crannies in which they may be. Use insecticides as a last resort and apply them in tight places and in accordance to the label. If beetles are found in a food product, throw away those items and keep the new ones in a tightly sealed container. If found in clothes, you can wash them to kill the beetles. Store clothes with moth ball crystals in a sealed plastic bag to avoid re-infestation. If beetles are found in a animal hide or trophy, place it in a plastic bag or container and freeze the item in the coldest freezer you can find (at least 32F). Do this three times in two day intervals of freezing and thawing. If problems are severe, contact a local pest control operator.

 

To reach Todd Murray please call (360) 676-6736 or e-mail him at: tmurray@wsu.edu