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The attraction of virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) to cadavers by a combination of decomposition odour and male sex pheromones

Christian von Hoermann1*, Joachim Ruther2 and Manfred Ayasse1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Experimental Ecology (Biology III), Ulm University, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, Ulm, 89069, Germany

2 Institute of Zoology, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstraße 31, Regensburg, 93053, Germany

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Frontiers in Zoology 2012, 9:18  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-9-18

Published: 14 August 2012



The hide beetle Dermestes maculatus (Coleoptera: Dermestidae) feeds as an adult and larva on decomposing animal remains and can also be found on human corpses. Therefore, forensic entomological questions with regard to when and how the first receptive females appear on carcasses are important, as the developmental stages of their larvae can be used to calculate the post-mortem interval. To date, we know that freshly emerged males respond to the cadaver odour of post-bloated carcasses (approximately 9 days after death at Tmean = 27°C), being attracted by benzyl butyrate. This component occurs at its highest concentration at this stage of decay. The aim of our study was to determine the principle of attraction of virgin females to the feeding and breeding substrate. For this purpose, we tested the response of these females to headspace samples of piglet cadavers and male sex pheromones [(Z9)-unsaturated fatty acid isopropyl esters] in a Y-olfactometer. Because we expected that such an odour combination is of importance for virgin female attraction, we tested the following two questions:

1) Are virgin female hide beetles attracted by a combination of cadaver odour and male sex pheromones?

2) During which decomposition stage do the first virgin females respond to cadaver odour when combined with male sex pheromones?


We found that young virgin females were attracted to the cadaver by a combination of cadaver odour and male sex pheromones. Neither cadaver odour alone nor male sex pheromones alone was significantly more attractive than a solvent control. Our results also gave a weak indication that the first young virgin females respond as early as the post-bloating stage to its associated decomposition odour when combined with male sex pheromones.


Our results indicate that freshly emerged males possibly respond to cadaver odour and visit carcasses before virgin females. Being attracted to cadavers when male sex pheromone is perceived as well, virgin females can optimise their reproductive possibilities.

Forensic entomology; Dermestes maculatus; (Z9)-unsaturated fatty acid isopropyl esters; Cadaver odour; Pheromone; Piglet cadaver