The Norman Transcript

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January 19, 2010

VIDEO: Museum harnesses beetles to get bones inhumanly spotless

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The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History has hired several hundred creepy crawlers to do its dirty work, harnessing these critters' otherwise pesky powers--eating dead flesh--for good.

Collections technician Larissa Busch, also known as the bug lady, reigns over the bug room, an offshoot of the museum with a separate ventilation system to avoid contamination.

Here, dead animals like raccoons and lizards--soaked in beef bouillon to tempt with flavor and tenderness--are transported in baggies to the room. The excess flesh then is washed way before the carcasses are dropped into large cases of larvae and adult hide beetles, which eat away the stray meat.

Streamlined as the integrative pest management system, the pests feed off the beef jerky textured meat, giving the bones a hefty cleaning, otherwise impossible for human hands and tools, said Linda Coldwell, public relations and marketing officer.

Coldwell admitted it sounded gross, but the eco-friendly and low maintenance process--aside from the beetles' picky table manners--doesn't damage the bones.

"They're lazy; they don't like to work through the skin," Busch said of the hardened lizard heads and the less meaty raccoon feet, which filled the room with a stench as she cleaned off the excess flesh in the sink.

"Phew, that's stinky," Coldwell said.

Bush then pulled out the next dinner course: Dead bats that took a beating from wind turbines.

"These aren't that pretty," she said.

But within the museum's love for its leggy friends, hides a sinister side, darkened by the 350 sticky traps hidden in every room of the museum to prevent a critter infestation.

"There's no way to make it insect proof. The idea is to catch them before it becomes a big problem," Busch said. "Because once they get into the collection, it's like an open buffet."

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