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Bug out! Don't lose your hard-earned trophies to this devastating, silent menace.

This story isn't about pesky mosquitoes and black flies that can ruin an unprepared bowhunter's hunt. Rather, it's about a tiny insect that can ruin a whole lifetime of hunting memories--by chewing up treasured taxidermy work. These bugs go about their destructive business in almost total secrecy. They do their silent damage after hours and under the cover of darkness, never letting you know just how devastating their work has been until it's too late. They can strike anywhere, anytime. And, as I discovered the hard way, it's really not a matter of if, but when they'll show up. Left unchecked, dermestid beetles, ironically the same energetic bugs long used by taxidermists to clean skulls, can clean out your entire trophy room.

My wife and I are both bowhunters, and we have collected quite a number of mounted game animals over the years, as well as various horns, antlers, turkey beards and spurs, all of which are displayed or stored in our house. We've always tried to take care of our wildlife mounts, and we never dreamed that an insect would endanger our hunting memories. But if not for the bug problems suffered by a close friend of mine, we might have lost all of our own trophies to hungry dermestid beetles.

One day while returning from a weekend bowfishing trip in Massachusetts I stopped by to visit a good friend of mine, Del Del Mastro. He'd recently built a beautiful new trophy room, and as we looked things over he told me how he'd lost three turkeys and a buffalo mount to dermestid beetles. Seems Del came home one day and found the feathers on the back of his strutting turkey mounts lying flat, not standing upright as they had been. Perplexed, Del called his taxidermist and started asking questions. The birds were displayed in glass cases and the taxidermist didn't have any immediate answers. But when he came out to the house, he soon discovered that dermestid beetles were hard at work in Del's trophy room.

As I drove home I began to think about the "sawdust" I'd seen around a pile of antlers that I kept in my bow room above our garage. Then I thought about the shucked bug cases I saw around a pile of cleaned skulls. And then I remembered the little roads that seemed to be cut out of the remaining hair on some of those skulls. Though I cleaned the mounts in our house at least twice a year, and I hadn't ever seen any beetle signs, I began to worry. So, while still on the road, I called my exterminator friend who sprays our house three times a year. He didn't know too much about dermestid beetles, and the national company be worked for didn't even exterminate for them. As he hung up, my friend told me he'd do some research.

The very next day I did some research, too, carefully inspecting every mounted trophy in our home. Unfortunately, it didn't take long to discover that those little nightmares were indeed silently at work in our home. I started to find what looked like crispy rice and sawdust below a blue wildebeest mount. From there the sign moved around the room and appeared to stop at a strutting turkey mount on the floor about 15 feet from the wildebeest. I started to really worry, as next up on the beetle menu was my prized full-body black bear mount. Needless to say, I was sick in my stomach. I called my exterminator friend again.

He told me he really couldn't do anything with mounted trophies unless my wife and I signed a liability waiver regarding any damage caused to the taxidermy by fumigation or fogging. The options of fogging each head, or taping off the room to fumigate everything at once, didn't sit well with us. Both options were expensive and offered no real guarantee. My friend was sorry, but that was all he could do. I couldn't believe that we'd had our house sprayed all, those years with no problems, and now I had beetles eating up my mounts. My next two phone calls went to friend Del and my own taxidermist.

Both of them suggested that I call the same person--Steve Miller. I'd seen his ads in magazines but had never given them much thought. I guess I had an it-can't-happen-to-me attitude. That same day I contacted Steve, owner of Miller Trophy Room Preservation and Restoration, Inc. What followed needs to be spread among the hunting ranks.

Steve didn't give me a sales pitch; he simply sent us his package, including a video that would make any hunter cry. The sad truth is, it doesn't matter if you have only one whitetail mount on your wall or hundreds of animals from around the world, dermestid beetles really don't show a preference. And, as it turns out, Steve Miller's Company is the only one in the world that specializes in dermestid beetles. Steve informed us that these silent destroyers of taxidermy usually aren't caught until significant damage is done. This sobering news wasn't what I wanted to hear from the dermestid beetle expert.

He also informed us that these unique insects show up anytime, anywhere, and in any climate. They get in just like any other insect. How many times have you had fruit flies that seem to appear out of nowhere on aging fruit left in your kitchen? Dermestids operate the same way, except they prefer the cover of darkness. They do almost all of their damage in the larval stage, and they have a common life span at room temperature of 258 to 639 days. In one study, two females laid between 648 and 845 eggs. One dermestid can produce six generations per year under favorable conditions. And the larvae begin to feed almost as soon as they leave the eggs. As you can see, it doesn't take long to produce a major problem. And when larvae molt they're almost microscopic, so usually the only signs of trouble are the little rice-sized shell casings.

In the wild, dermestid beetles are numerous and exist everywhere. Common carpet beetles, cabinet beetles (pantry pests), and hide beetles, are just a few. These beetles are God's creation, and they do have a purpose. In nature they clean up refuse by scavenging mammal, bird, and insect nests for shed hair and skin, and they feast on dead animals. They are one of the few organisms capable of digesting keratin, the protein found in hair, fur, feathers, skin, horns, antlers, hooves, and claws. They target any membrane that may be attached to antlers, velvet antlers, antler bases and horn cores. Really, they'll consume anything that has protein in it, no matter how old it is.

In your home, dermestid beetles are capable of feeding on any edible food source. Common areas to inspect for beetle signs are cat and dog food bins, birdseed bags, and rodent baits. Decorations like dried flower arrangements, Christmas wreaths or decorations made from food products, such as breads or seeds, animal parts, and bird feathers. They also will feed on natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, and especially wool. Be sure to check leather or fur clothing items. And, of course, these beetles will chew up mounted game animals and all skins, hides, and feathers.

Should you discover beetles, don't get angry with your taxidermist. It's not his fault. Regardless of how great the quality of taxidermy, all mounts are at risk. The federal government stopped tanneries from using arsenic and other residual chemicals in the tanning process long ago. So, for the past 50-plus years, mounted trophies have been fair game for beetles.

The good news is that Miller Trophy Room professionals have been eliminating these little predators from trophy collections all over the world for years. They have a client reference list a mile long. They'll come to your home, inspect your mounts, and find the source of infestation. Then they'll kill the beetles, using a proprietary process developed over many years that involves removing the mounts and then spraying and injecting them. And then they teach you how to avoid further problems with dermestids.

Every treated piece of taxidermy will carry a 10-year guarantee. And, while the value of the work they do is priceless, the real cost is affordable ($45 for the average whitetail shoulder mount). Plus, they also clean and touch up every piece of taxidermy. If you keep your collection on a service contract with them you'll get a lifetime guarantee. When the Miller Trophy Room folks were done with our trophies, the animals looked better than ever. Based on my own experience, I'd recommend that owners of taxidermy collections try to prevent dermestid infestations rather than just hope the beetles will never threaten hard-earned bowhunting trophies.

If you're serious about protecting your hard-earned bowhunting trophies, call, write, or e-mail Steve at Miller Trophy Room Preservation & Restoration, Inc., 7995 W. Franklin St, Hwy 73, Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina 28124; (704) 436-2001 or (704) 436-9977 phone; (704) 436-9166 fax; www.millertrophyroom. com; e-mail MTR@dialpoint.net.

Jeff Frey is Bowhunter's online equipment advisor. A long-time archer and bowhunter living in Pennsylvania, he puts his considerable equipment knowledge to work by regularly fielding "Ask Bowhunter" questions for the magazine.
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Author:Frey, Jeff
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:1553
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