Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Bug behavior


QUESTION: I'm looking for a bug that can be used in our aviary trays to consume all types of bird waste.  This prevents mold from forming on the feces and unconsumed dropped food.  We feed our breeders a mixture of cooked rice, soy, grains, and corn on a daily basis, in addition to dry see.  We used to live in the desert and allowed the darkling beetle/mealworms to live in the cage trays.  Unfortunately we found out that they will also eat wood and they infested the house causing damage like termites.  We could not fumigate the house to kill the bugs for fear of killing the birds.  We moved to Michigan in October and have 230 cockatiels but no bugs.  Because of the higher humidity and lack of bugs we are constantly fighting mold in the cage trays.  We have a dehumidifier, which helps.  We will be purchasing a home in the spring near Alpina MI and the birds will have their own aviary as soon as possible.  It will be heated and cooled, and need a source of water and power. Can you tell me what bugs we could use in the cage trays that won't destroy our aviary?  Thank you for your help!

ANSWER: Pamela,

Interesting question. Mealworms don't eat wood so they should work (do you have first-hand knowledge of wood damage?). The other possibility would be dermestid beetles (see http://www.livingwithbugs.com/carpet_beetle.html). Colonies of dermestid beetles can be purchased (google dermestid beetles).

Jack DeAngelis

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QUESTION: I do have first hand knowledge of the wood damage.  We used wooden nest boxes in the cages and found bored holes in this wood and in the 2X4's (purchased new) used to construct the stands that the cages were on.  As well, I found a weak spot and hole in an interior baseboard of the house.  When I inspected it (gently) the baseboard broke right off in my hand and was riddled with tunnels.  The wallboard broke off and the inside was full of the darkling beetles and mealworms.  This was after we had lived there over a year.  The beetles were so plentiful that they were coming out of the ceiling into the drop space for the kitchen fluorescent ceiling lights.  They would die and you could see the plastic sheeting spotted with all of these dead beetles.  I can't imagine what food source they would have inside the walls if they were not eating the wood.  Maybe they were just hiding in the wall.  They would go into any tiny hole or crack if disturbed and huddled together in large groups under water dishes or under anything.  Possibly they were seeking some protection from the light or a tiny bit of warmth.  One day I was sweeping up and when I moved a surge protector power source(basic six outlet) they started coming out of the holes, 50 to 75 of them.  Now that you've said that they don't eat wood I have to wonder if the damage in the wall was from a previous problem before we ever lived there.  We had the same set up for three years at a previous home and didn't have all of the wood damage, but that house was constructed much better and we didn't have any of the pest problems that we experienced here.  Thank you for your help.  I will look up the other bugs you recommended also.

ANSWER: I want to be sure we are talking about the same insect. Mealworms are the larvae of a fairly large beetle (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenebrio_molitor), in the family Tenebrionidae. The larvae grow to about an inch long and feed on a variety of grains but not wood. The only way I can think of to have mealworms inside a wall would be if there was a cache of seeds, possibly from mouse activity. I'm sure that the damage you found was not caused by the mealworms (if they were mealworms). You might want to take a few to your local Cooperative Extension office (www.extension.org) or post a picture here.

Jack DeAngelis

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QUESTION: My apologies, this is not the beetle we had.  The appearance of the beetle and all stages of the life cycle were so similar that I never noticed that the size was so different-I'm not familiar with cm and just looked up to conversion.  The adults were .5 cm and larve grew to 1.5 cm.  So the beetles we had and the larva were half as big as the darkling beetle.  Occasionally I would see very light brown to dark brown beetles and this was in the descriptions that I read: that when the beetles emerged they were light color then turned to dark brown and black.  I just did a search of beetles and didn't find one this size that had the correct appearance.  Unfortunately I do not have any of these beetles because we just moved from NV to MI and were careful not to bring them along because of the damage.  I will continue to investigate, or simply use one of the two that you suggested.  Thank you again for your help.

No problem. It is very easy to misidentify insects. I'm still curious about what you were using so if you get an id or picture post a follow up. There are a number of other dermestid beetles that might fit your description as well so check that family (Dermestidae). Good luck.

Jack DeAngelis

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Jack DeAngelis


I can answer questions in any area of entomology (study of insects, spiders, mites, ticks, and other terrestrial arthropods). Contact me about home and garden insects, insects that bite and sting, and insects that damage homes such as carpenter ants and termites.


20 years as university extension entomologist, now retired; currently publish a website about home and garden insects.

see www.livingwithbugs.com/resume.html

Ph.D. in Entomology

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