MAY
1993

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

05-28-93

Carpet Beetles and Carpetbaggers

Carpetbaggers and carpet beetles. One is a group of people; the other is a group of insects. It is desirable to avoid an association with either group.

Carpetbagger, as any serious student of U.S. history knows, is not a term of endearment. Carpetbagger was used to describe those less-than-reputable itinerant bankers of the Wild West.

The term was also used for Northerners who went south following the Civil War to make money in those unsettled times. Carpetbaggers were named because they lived out of a carpetbag — a satchel made from carpet.

Carpet beetles, on the other hand, don’t live out of carpetbags. They live on the carpet in the bags — or carpet in any other place.

These insects are scientifically part of the insect family known as Dermestidae, the dermestid beetles. The name comes from the fact that many of them feed on animal skins. The same word root is found in dermatologist, a skin doctor.
These insects are small, about 1/4 inch long. The adults do little damage; in fact they prefer to feed on flowers. It is the larva of this insect that causes problems. The larvae are slow-moving, fuzzy worms. The rather coarse hairy look and the general shape of the larvae may have suggested another common name for this insect — the buffalo bug or the buffalo moth. Buffalo also may have become a nickname for this insect since it was destructive to buffalo robes in the days when such things were common.

Carpet beetles have been known to show up in our stored food. One telltale sign of carpet beetle infestations is the shed skins of larvae. Many an infestation has come to light when the shed skins float up in the milk being poured over the dried cereal in the breakfast bowl!
While carpet beetles feed on natural fibers, they like to live in lint and debris. Anywhere dust collects — inside walls, under carpets, or cracks behind a cabinet shelf — are potential living sites for these insects. Consequently, cleanliness is one way to discourage infestations.

In nature, carpet beetles are part of nature’s recycling crew. They help recycle dead animal material. It is when they try to recycle the animal material humans have saved for themselves that they are called pests.

One of the pest aspects of carpet beetles is that they are major problems in insect collections. It seems that these “carpet-bagger” insects will feed on dead things anywhere if given the chance. The carpet beetle does its ecological thing and begins to recycle the nutrients. It doesn’t matter if the dead animal happens to be a long-lost insect cousin in a collection!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann