Carpet beetles, which belong to the family of beetles known as dermestids, are bug you might find in warehouses, homes, museums, and other locations where suitable food exists. They like undisturbed places that they can find their food sources. Food comes in the way of dead animals or bugs. Or, as their common name indicates, they might feed on items that were at one time part of an animal, say a wool rug, or human hair event. Chances are you have them around your home. But they are in places that you do not frequent as much in or around the home.
Dermestids, individuals in the family Dermestidae, are commonly known as skin or carpet beetles. The latter is a terrible name as the vast majority of floor coverings are now made of synthetic, non-edible fibers that have nothing to do with these beetles. Referring to dermestids as “carpet beetles” frequently confuses clients and requires further explanation.
If the moniker “carpet” is out, then what is the “skin” name all about? A novice might assume that dermatologists would study dermestid beetles. But, this absurdity merely stems from the commonly shared Greek root word, derma, meaning skin. Then, why would a group of beetles be called “skin” or “hide” beetles? This name is really an oversimplification of the dermestid diet. Many of these beetles do feed on old animal skin, but the term “broad palate” is an understatement for this group as they will eat just about anything! In fact, dermestids can find nutrition in many items including stored grains, pastas, cured meats, spices, natural fabrics, feathers, blooming flowers, dirtied incinerator shafts, museum specimens, dead insects, feces and carrion. It’s quite an appetizing, and varied, list!
For those of you without carrion at your residence — don’t assume that only hunters and Hannibal Lecter-types need to worry — instead, think of mammal (mainly rodent) or bird nests that are located within structures, and what happens when these animals expire. Dead insects, another favored food source, become associated with humans in a variety of scenarios, too. In fact, as a young proto-entomologist I was traumatized by dermestid beetles and their bizarre palates as they turned my prized insect collection into an open buffet line, morphing beautiful specimens into hollowed out husks with piles of chitinous debris beneath! For those without intentional insect collections, dead insects may accumulate in structures from overwintering insect problems or cavity-dwelling social insects.
Of course, the more scientific term, dermestid, is not a household name and will not educate the client about their habits either, but it does benefit from being taxonomically accurate and lends a certain resonance of professionalism and knowledge — so let’s use that as our starting point.
If you have carpets that are synthetic and keep your house a bug free as possible then the likely hood of having carpet beetles is greatly diminished. If you have animal skin rugs or clothing in your home be sure to regularly clean it appropriately.
Carpet beetles do not pose a severe health threat to humans, but they can be a nuisance when it is discovered they have fed on some valuable fabrics.