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.
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.