New Scientist TV: Flesh-eating beetles turn dead parrot into skeleton

Even after death, this parrot retains its striking plumage. But its feathers and tissue disappear when subjected to flesh-eating beetles for about three weeks, leaving behind a grisly skeleton.

The video, captured by Brian McClave from Site-Eye Films in collaboration with Joanne Cooper from the Natural History Museum at Tring, UK, shows the process often used by museums to prepare a skeleton for their collections. Beetles are best for stripping a bird’s flesh since chemical alternatives can eat into bone and change its structure. To speed up decomposition, specimens are usually defeathered before beetles are left to do their work.

Once the flesh is removed, bones are cleaned before a specimen is registered and added to a collection. Skeletons of modern birds are important for comparison with fossils, giving clues into how species evolved. They can also give insight into bone diseases and injuries.

The Natural History Museum has more than 18,000 bird skeletons, so far. “The beetles are always at work,” says Cooper.


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