Warning as rare ‘skin eating’ creature found off Westcountry coast

A warning has been issued after a rare species of ‘skin-eating’ insect was found off the Westcountry coast – and it feeds on skin, fur and bones of dead animals.

It’s thought the Dermestes Undulatus beetle – which was last sighted in the UK in 2022 and discovered on Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel – may have been carried to the island by gulls carrying the remains of dead creatures.

SomersetLive reports the island, based between Weston-super-Mare and Lavernock, attracts tourists from all over the world. Experts believe Flat Holm Island could be the last stronghold of the species in the UK.

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Flat Holm’s community engagement officer, Sarah Morgan, warned the creatures were not for the ‘squeamish’, She said: “These tiny beetles feed on the skin, fur and bones of dead animals – Dermestes literally means skin eater. It’s a preference that makes them a bit of a pain in museum collections, but incredibly useful in forensic science to help determine how long a body has been in situ.

“Exactly how the beetle made it out to the island is a bit of a mystery, given that they appear to be completely absent from the mainland now, but it’s possible they were brought by gulls carrying scavenged remains.” A team from the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre discovered the beetles’ presence.

It also found other rare species including a Scarlet Berry Truffle, microscopic cup fungi, tiny moths that live inside bracken stems, and a well-camouflaged Burnished Brass Moth. Dermestes beetles are not generally harmful to humans and will only eat dead material.

They were found in a ‘bioblitz’ of the island as part of the Flat Holm – A Walk Through Time project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Flat Holm is a haven for nature and has bee-friendly status. It is also home to a colony of protected lesser black-backed gulls, as well as slow worms and wild leeks.

Plymouth Live – | News