Dermestid damage


Since I was young I’ve been collecting insect specimens. Part of preparing the specimens for display involves spreading them out in the desired position, held in place with pins, until they dry/set in that position. Once they are set, they can be transferred to display/storage cases which are tightly sealed and contain camphor (a strong-smelling insect repellant) which helps keep them safe and in good condition.

Dermestid beetle exuviae

Dermestid beetle exuviae


Whilst going through a box of old things in the attic, I found a cigar box in which I used to set specimens. However in the years since I had opened the box, all the specimens had disappeared. They had been eaten by dermestid beetles, a common pest in insect collections. The box is now filled with the beetles’ exuviae and droppings, while the pinned insects are now just dust.

Dermestid beetle frass and insect pins

Dermestid beetle frass and insect pins


Pinning insects is an attempt to press the Pause button right after death, to stave off decay and freeze an object in time. In this case nature has secretly pressed the Play button while I wasn’t looking.

Dust clouds where pinned insects used to be

Dust clouds where pinned insects used to be



Praying mantids (like all insects) grow by periodically shedding their “skin”, which is actually their skeleton. It cracks open and they slowly slide out of it, leaving the old skeleton (exuviae) behind. This is a period of transition, when they are at their most vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. They emerge soft and weak, barely able to walk and unable to catch food.

I’m interested in the way these structures remain as reminders of what used to be, a record of every bump and groove of its body. They are almost ghostly and ethereal, like an echo or shadow made flesh. Remains, not as a reminder of death but as evidence of growth, and continued life.

Exuviae of  Hymenopus coronatus  (Orchid mantis)

Exuviae of Hymenopus coronatus (Orchid mantis)



Material experiments for Action At A Distance series.


Flyspeck on cotton. The dead flies pile up in crevices, blocking other flies from depositing flyspeck, which leads to variations in print density.


Print density is highest on “peaks” of material, where most flies prefer to congregate and have a higher likelihood of depositing.


The porosity of the print medium has a huge effect on the type of marks that get made. These two circles were made by the same fly group, fed the same food in the same conditions. The porous kitchen paper on the left absorbs the flyspeck very well, leading to larger, more diffuse marks and colours. The paper on the right absorbs very little, and all the flyspeck remains tight, thick and dark on the surface.