1. Um, dermestids love fresh meat? In the wild, they are outhcompeted by scavengers, blowflies, and carrion beetles, but they can and will consume fresh tissue. I fed my colony nothing but fresh carcasses and they do quite well at eating them. Feeding fresh meat allows rapid colony expansion. I never once had fly, mite or ham beetle problems because I ensured that my starter colony was clean, and froze all of my carcasses for at least one week before thawing and feeding (but some people do well feeding raw, it’s just a risk).
The only consideration you need to take is that your carcass is the right size for your colony. With a large enough colony, you can feed entire raw (skinned) heads. For smaller colonies, you will need to remove the guts, brains—or even feed the colony one limb at a time. Serving the meat on thin cardboard and turning it once per day significantly reduces moisture and prevents bacterial rot from setting in.
A lot of beetle keepers recommend feeding dried meat, but this is really just personal preference and to keep down the smell of low-maintenance colonies. Feeding fresh will not harm the beetles if the material is not allowed to rot.
3. Dermestids can also take care of mummified carcasses, provided that you briefly soak it before feeding or otherwise provide moisture. It takes longer than dermestids eating fresh meat, but it is definitely faster than maceration. Mummified carcasses just require work to get the bones out of, despite their appearance.
That’s great that you’ve had success with fresh meat, but derms prefer jerkified meat and giving your derms fresh meat puts them at risk. I’ve read that some people who fed fresh took a longer time to clean skulls and sometimes the derms just didn’t even want anything to do with it until they were air-dried in front of a fan.
Even if you freeze meat, that won’t stop mites from coming in because mites are attracted to the moisture. Any dermestid breeder site will tell you that feeding fresh is dangerous. Hell, even the people on taxidermy.net can tell you this.
I have run trials where I offered the beetles fresh vs dried meat, and they swarmed the fresh meat. They can eat it, will eat it, and even seem to prefer eating it.
I am an entomologist, and I am aware that moisture attracts mites. Freezing carcasses before feeding them out is an excellent way to prevent colony contamination, regardless of the level of dehydration of the carcass you are feeding to your colony. This prevents flies, ham beetles, carrion beetles, and other destructive pests from ravaging your colony.
Later in my post, I listed several precautions that I took in order to limit the amount of moisture built up in my tank. Let me be a little more complete here, for general reference:
- Have a tank with a fine mesh lid to enable air flow
- Fully thaw carcass
- Pat dry with paper towel
- Make sure that the amount you feed is small enough for your colony to eat in 3-4 days. This way, eggs can be laid and hatch, increasing your colony size. Feeding too much runs the risk of rot (this is where a lot of people go wrong). If your colony is small, you may need to disembowel even small animals (mice, rats), feed individual limbs at a time, remove as much muscle as possible from thicker limbs, and possibly remove the brains
- Place meat on thin cardboard tray inside dermestid enclosure to prevent moistening the substrate
- Turn carcass at least once per day to prevent moisture accumulation on the underside
Using this method, my beetles quickly ate the material provided to them, and there was no rot, virtually no moisture buildup (especially because I didn’t do my regular 2x/week mistings while meat was in the tank), and no mites—even after nearly three years of keeping my beetles.
Feeding fresh meat takes a lot more careful attention than feeding dried meat. I am completely aware of the methods used by commercial dermestid breeders; some of them have great animal husbandry, and some of them don’t. For instance, you should never put styrofoam in with your beetles. They will eat it, and it will become lodged in their digestive tract because they can’t digest it. Some breeders do it anyway. Do they calculate the mortality it causes? No. Most of the commercial breeders do what works for them, and don’t have empirical evidence to back up their methods. Even with feeding jerkied meat, some commercial breeders end up with mite problems because they didn’t monitor their enclosure closely. Many of them don’t check for mites at all.
Commercial breeders can also afford a certain amount of “loss” that smaller operations can’t. I had a small colony of ~1000 beetles, and I needed every one of them to do work for me. If 5% died, I would have noticed a significant drop in the colony’s ability to clean my carcasses.
My beetles were also my pets. I did the best that I could to ensure that they got good care, and they responded by being a healthy, and vibrant colony full of adorable, hungry larvae.
So what you’ve done is pretty much take a raw skull and turn it regularly to ensure it dried out, but in your words to “ensure no moisture buildup”. That is literally the exact thing taxidermists do with skulls prior to putting them in beetles to avoid mites. That is the exact same thing I do to dry my skulls out.