Is there really a skeleton-cleaning “bug room” at the ROM?
Is there really a skeleton-cleaning “bug room” at the ROM?—Molly McGregor, Whitby
Hands down, the most effi_cient way to turn animal carcasses into pristine skeletons suitable for scientific research is with an army of flesh-eating beetles. So, yes, beneath the ROM, in the first of three underground levels, you’ll find a warm, dark, humid room kept behind double doors and guarded by electric bug zappers (the beetles, who also eat rugs, must be contained). It is indeed called the Bug Room, and on most days, its tens of thousands of tenants can be found munching on the carrion of anything from a finch to a rhinoceros. The three species—two indigenous to Ontario, the other an interloper that mysteriously appeared in the room one day—top out at half a centimetre long, but they meticulously clean even the tiniest bones and can devour a sparrow overnight; bigger meals, like a deer, take up to a month. The room has a staff of two, who spend no more than five minutes at a time inside (if the lights are left on too long, the beetles start to fly). And the smell? As one Bug Room denizen puts it, “Let’s just say I usually have no problem getting a seat on the subway.”