Preparing a skeleton - secret life of beetles (time-lapse video)

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Watch a time-lapse video showing the Natural History Museum’s smallest workers, flesh-eating beetles, helping us prepare the skeleton of a scarlet macaw for the collections. The film was produced by Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films Ltd.

Warning: This video is graphic, showing the decomposition of a specimen. It may not be suitable for young or sensitive viewers.

Preparing skeletons

Scientists sometimes use strong chemicals to strip the flesh off skeletons they want to study. But these can eat into the bones and change their structure. So instead, we use a special beetle species, Dermestes haemarrhoidalis, that strips off the flesh but leaves the bones and collagen untouched.

The beetles don’t eat feathers, so usually specimens are skinned first, to speed up the process. Here, the feathers were left on, to show how the skull of the scarlet macaw, Ara macao, sits underneath its skin. The impressive size of the lower jaw reflects the massive strength of the parrot’s beak.

Watch the flesh-eating beetles live on our webcam

Bird collection

Around 95% of all known bird species are represented in the Museum’s ornithological collection. As well as over 15,000 skeletons, it includes around 700,000 skins and over 17,000 specimens preserved in alcohol.

Find out more about the Museum's ornithological collection