Guest blog written by 2015 Environmental Visual Communication student Robert Elliot
How does the Royal Ontario Museum get their Skeletons so clean without compromising their integrity? A well-kept colony of hide beetles cleans every crevice of the various cadavers in the ROM’s bug room with incredible efficiency. A steel walled, dark humid room filled with corpses; a veritable beetle heaven is home to these hard working bugs. I had the pleasure of entering their domain to get a unique perspective on the ROM.
A painted sign on the door reads “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” a reference to the last gate of Hell in “Dante’s Inferno.” Quite the opposite for these hard working beetles. Nothing goes to waste, every inch of the bones is cleaned and once they are through they collectively move on to the next specimen and get to work. Although not the pickiest eaters they do have preferences, as Brad Millen of ROM Natural History explained; birds are their favourite fare, and the quickest to be cleaned. Amphibians don’t get the same attention, but the bugs get around to them once they’ve finished their favourites.
Locked doors and steel walls are important to keep the colony contained, the havoc they could wreak on a museum of scientific specimens, munching through hides, furs, feathers and scales. They are masters of finding new food sources; it’s a feat in itself keeping these bugs in line. The labour they save the ROM is well worth it though, cleaning to such high standards in just days. The colony is a reminder that behind the scenes, the museum is very much alive.
These insects are a testament to the power of nature - the ultimate recycling team that humans cannot emulate. Next time you visit the museum remind yourself of the work put in by our six legged friends to provide beautiful displays and study skeletons. It’s really quite incredible what goes on behind this last gate of hell. For the latest information and photos from the ROM’s bug room, follow Brad Millen on Twitter @B_Millen, and also by watching for the hashtag #ROMBugs.