Amid Virus, Field Museum's Flesh-Eating Beetles Keep Eating

Beetles at the Field Museum
Mary Hennen/The Field Museum

Flesh-eating beetles are still being fed at Chicago’s prestigious Field Museum of Natural History despite the institution shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The sub-basement's walk-in freezer is filled with animal specimens that still must have their flesh removed so researchers can examine the bones, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The dermestid beetles pick the bones clean without damaging them. When the meat runs out, more must be retrieved from the freezer.

It's one of the few signs of life inside the museum since it closed in mid-March amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Adam Ferguson, who oversees around 235,000 mammal specimens at the museum, is checking on thousands of tiny black beetles crawling over animal bones in an effort to find decaying flesh scraps.

“They’re actually really cute; they’re black on top and white on the bottom,” he said of the voracious beetles.

Occasionally, Ferguson goes to the sub-basement to gather more bones for the little critters to chew on. The freezer was filled last week with countless species of birds, a “pure bred” goat, and several dozen wolves and coyotes.

“Sue” the dinosaur took a stroll through the Field Museum Wednesday, inspired by her penguin friends at the Shedd Aquarium.

Ferguson added that he might not see another person for the four hours that he's in the museum.

“It’s a little creepy,” he acknowledged. “It’s weird because normally the whole museum is such a buzz of activity, both for visitors and staff.”

Aside from the thousands of daily guests and dozens of volunteers, the museum has a staff of roughly 470 people. There are usually half a dozen people slicing up animal carcasses in the nearby prep lab.

“I go in there now, and you can hear a pin drop,” Ferguson said.

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