Forensic entomology

Forensic entomology

Forensic entomology is the application and study of insect and other arthropod biology to criminal matters. Forensic entomology is primarily associated with death investigations however it may also be used to detect drugs and poisons, determine the location of an incident, the length of a period of neglect in the elderly or children and the presence and time of the infliction of wounds. Forensic entomology can be divided into three subfields: urban, stored-product and medico-legal/medico-criminal entomology.


Historically there have been several accounts of vague applications for and experimentation with forensic entomology and the concept of forensic entomology dates back to at least the 1300s. However, only in the last 30 years has forensic entomology been systematically explored as a feasible source for evidence in criminal investigations. Through their own experiments and own interest in arthropods and death many people have helped to lay the foundations for today's modern forensic entomology, these incluse Song Ci, Francesco Redi, Bergeret d’Arbois, Jean Pierre Mégnin and the German doctor H. Reinhard

ong Ci

Song Ci (also known as Sung Tz’u), was a lawyer and death investigator who lived in China in the late 13th century. In 1247 A.D. Song Ci wrote a book entitled 洗冤集錄 (commonly translated to “Washing Away of Wrongs”). In this book Song Ci depicts several cases in which he took notes on how a person died and elaborates on probable causes. He goes into detail on how to examine a corpse both before and after burial. He also explains the process of how to determine a probable cause of death. The purpose of this book was to be used as a guide for other investigators so they could assess the scene of the crime effectively. His level of detail in explaining what he observed in all his cases laid down the fundamentals for modern forensic entomologists and is the first recorded account in history of someone using forensic entomology for judicial means. [ S. Tz’u., B.E. Mc Knight 1981, The Washing Away Of Wrongs, Center for Chinese Studies The University of Michigan, Pages 1-34] This book was immensely popular and represented the first time that the general public became aware that insects could be used in criminal investigations.

Francesco Redi

In 1668, Italian physician Francesco Redi disproved the theory of "spontaneous generation", or abiogenesis. The accepted theory of Redi's day claimed that maggots developed spontaneously from rotting meat. In an experiment, he used samples of rotting meat that were either fully exposed to the air, partially exposed to the air, or not exposed to air at all. Redi showed that both fully and partially exposed rotting meat developed fly maggots, whereas rotting meat that was not exposed to air did not develop maggots. This discovery completely changed the way people viewed the decomposition of organisms and prompted further investigations into insect life cycles and into entomology in general. [cite web | url= | title=A History of Microbiology | | first= | last= | date=2003-04-30 | accessdate=2008-03-12]

Bergeret d'Arbois

Dr Bergeret d’Arbois was a hospital physician, and was the first to apply forensic entomology to a case. In a case report published in 1855 he stated a general life cycle for insects and made many assumptions about their mating habits. Nevetheless these assumptions led him to the first application forensic entomology in an estimation of postmortem interval (PMI). His report used forensic entomology as tool to prove his hypothesis on how and when the person had died.cite journal | author=Benecke M. | title=A brief history of forensic entomology | journal=Forensic. Sci. Int. | year=2001 | volume=120 | issue=1-2 | pages=2-14 | pmid=11457602 | doi=]

H. Reinhard

The first systematic study in forensic entomology was conducted in 1881 by H. Reinhard, a German medical doctor who played a vital role in the history of forensic entomology. He exhumed many bodies and demonstrated that the development of many different types of insect species could be tied to buried bodies. Reinhard conducted his first study in east Germany, and collected many Phorid flies from this initial study. He also concluded that the development of not all the insects living with corpses underground were associated with them, since there were 15-year-old beetles who had little direct contact with them. Reinhard's works and studies were used extensively in further forensic entomology studies.

Jean Pierre Mégnin

Jean Pierre Mégnin, an army veterinarian published many articles and books on various subjects including the books "Faune des Tombeaux" and "La Faune des Cadavres", which are considered to be among the most important forensic entomology books in history. [cite journal | author=Klotzbach H, Krettek R. "et al". | title=The history of forensic entomology in German-speaking countries | journal=Forensic. Sci. Int. | year=2004 | volume=144 | issue=2-3 | pages=259-263 | pmid=15364399 | doi=] In his second book he did revolutionary work on the theory of predictable waves, or successions of insects onto corpses. By counting numbers of live and dead mites that developed every 15 days, and comparing this with his initial count on the infant, he was able to estimate how long that infant was dead.

In this book he asserted that exposed corpses were subject to eight successional waves whereas buried corpses were only subject to two waves. Mégnin made many great discoveries that helped shed new light on many of the general characteristics of decaying flora and fauna. Mégnin's work and study of the larval and adult forms of insect families found in cadavers sparked the interest of future entomologists and encouraged more research in the link between arthropods and the deceased, and thereby helped to establish the scientific discipline of forensic entomology.

Forensic entomology subfields

Urban forensic entomology

Urban forensic entomology typically concerns pest infestations in buildings or gardens that may be the basis of litigation between private parties and service providers such as landlords or exterminators.cite journal |last=Catts |first=E. P. |authorlink= |coauthors=Goff , M. L. |year=1992 |month=January| title = Forensic Entomology in Criminal Investigations|journal=Annual Review of Entomology |volume=37 |issue= |page=253-272 |doi=10.1146/annurev.en.37.010192.001345 |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-03 |quote=| pages = 253] Urban forensic entomology studies may also indicate the appropriateness of certain pesticide treatments and may also be used in stored products cases where it can help to determine chain of custody, when all points of possible infestation are examined in order to determine who is at fault. [Bledsoe 2008, personal interview ]

tored-product forensic entomology

Stored-product forensic entomology is often used in litigation over infestation or contamination of commercially distributed foods by insects.cite journal |last=Catts |first=E. P. |authorlink= |coauthors=Goff , M. L.|year= 1992|month= |title=Forensic Entomology in Criminal Investigations |journal=Annual Review of Entomology |volume=37 |issue= |pages=253–272 |doi=10.1146/annurev.en.37.010192.001345 |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-01 |quote= ]

Medico-legal forensic entomology

Medicolegal forensic entomology covers evidence that may be gathered through arthropod studies at events such as murder, suicide, rape, physical abuse and contraband trafficking. In murder investigations it deals with which insects lay eggs when and where, and in what order they appear in dead bodies. This can be helpful in determining a post mortem interval (PMI) and location of a death in question. Since many insects exhibit a degree of endemism (occurring only in certain places), or have a well-defined phenology (active only at a certain season, or time of day), their presence in association with other evidence can demonstrate potential links to times and locations where other events may have occurred (e.g., an Ohio man who claimed to have been in Ohio on the date his wife and children were murdered in California was found to have grasshoppers and other nocturnal insects from the west on his car grille, indicating that the car had been driven at night to the western US, and he was subsequently convicted. [cite web |url= |title=Insects help convict killer |accessdate=2008-04-01 |format= |work= ] ). Another area covered by medicolegal forensic entomology is the relatively new field of entomotoxicology. This particular branch involves the utilization of entomological specimens found at a scene in order to test for different drugs that may have possibly played a role in the death of the victim.

Insect types

There are many different types of insect studied in forensic entomology. The insects listed below are mostly necrophagous (corpse-eating) and are particularly relevant to medicolegal entomological investigations. This is not a full list as there are many variations due to climate (see Mostovski and Mansell [ [] (link not working as of 2008-03-23)] ).The order in which insects feed on a corpse is known as faunal succession. [ [] (link not working as of 2008-03-23)]


Flies (order diptera) are often first on the scene. They prefer a moist corpse for their maggots to feed on, as a moist corpse is easier for them to chew. The most significant types of fly include:

*Blowflies - Family Calliphoridae- Flies in this family are often metallic in appearance and between 10 to 12 mm in length. In addition to the name blow-fly, some members of this family are known as blue bottle fly, cluster fly, or greenbottles. A characteristic of the blow-fly is its 3-segmented antennae. Hatching from an egg to the first larval stage takes about 8 hours to one day. Larvae have three stages of development (called instars); each stage is separated by a molting event. Worldwide, there are 1100 known species of blowflies, with 228 species in the Neotropics, and a large number of species in Africa and Southern Europe. The most common area to find Calliphoridae species are in the countries of India, Japan, Central America, and Southern United States. The typical habitat for blow-flies are temperate to tropical areas that provide a layer of loose, damp soil and litter where larvae may thrive and pupate. The forensic importance of this fly is the first insect to come in contact with carrion because they have the ability to smell death from up to ten miles (16 km) away
*Fleshflies - Family Sarcophagidae- Most flesh flies breed in carrion, dung, or decaying material, but a few species lay their eggs in the open wounds of mammals; hence their common name. Characteristics of the flesh-fly is its 3-segmented antennae and they are medium-sized flies with black and gray longitudinal stripes on the thorax and checkering on the abdomen. Flesh-flies, being viviparous, frequently give birth to live young on corpses of human and other animals, at any stage of decomposition from newly dead through to bloated or decaying (though the latter is more common).
*House Flies - Family Muscidae- is the most common of all flies fluttering in homes, and indeed one of the most widely distributed insects; it is often considered a pest that can carry serious diseases. The adults are 6-9 mm long. Their thorax is gray, with four longitudinal dark lines on the back. The underside of their abdomen is yellow, and their whole body is covered with hair. Houseflies have only one pair of wings; the hind pair is reduced to small halteres that aid in flight stability. Houseflies can take in only liquid foods. They spit out saliva on solid foods to predigest it, and then suck it back inside. They also regurgitate partly digested matter and pass it again to the abdomen. Each female fly can lay over up to 500 eggs in several batches of about 75 to 150 eggs.
*Cheese Flies - Family Piophilidae- Most are scavengers in animal products and fungi. The best-known member of the family is Piophila casei. It is a small fly, about four mm (1/6 inch) long, found worldwide. This fly's larva infests cured meats, smoked fish, cheeses, and decaying animals and is sometimes called the cheese skipper for its leaping ability - when disturbed. Forensic entomology uses the presence of Piophila casei larvae to help estimate the date of death for human remains. They do not take up residence in a corpse until three to six months after death. The adult fly's body is black, blue-black, or bronze, with some yellow on the head, antennae, and legs. The wings are faintly iridescent and lie flat upon the fly's abdomen when at rest. At four mm (1/6 inch) long, the fly is one-third to one-half as long as the common housefly.
*Coffin Flies - Family Phoridae
*Lesser Corpse Flies - Family Sphaeroceridae
*Lesser House Flies - Family Fanniidae
*Black scavenger flies - Sepsidae
*Sun Flies- Heleomyzidae
*Black soldier fly- Stratiomyidae- have potential for use in forensic entomology. The larvae are common scavengers in compost heaps, are found in association with carrion, can be destructive pests in honey bee hives, and are used in manure management (for both house fly control and reduction in manure volume). The larvae range in size from 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch (3 to 19 millimeters). The adult fly is a mimic, very close in size, color, and appearance to the organ pipe mud dauber wasp and its relatives.


Beetles (order coleoptera) are generally found on the corpse when it is more decomposed. In drier conditions, the beetles can be replaced by moth flies (Psychodidae).

*Rove Beetles - Family Staphylinidae - are elongate beetles with small elytra (wing covers) and large jaws. Like other beetles inhabiting carrion, they have fast larval development with only three larval stages. Creophilus species are common predators of carrion, and since they are large, are a very visible component of the fauna of corpses. Some adult Staphylinidae are early visitors to a corpse, feeding on larvae of all species of fly, including the later predatory fly larvae. They lay their eggs in the corpse, and the emerging larvae are also predators. Some species have a long development time in the egg, and are common only during the later stages of decomposition. Staphylinids can also tear open the pupal cases of flies, to sustain themselves at a corpse for long periods.

*Hister Beetles - Family Histeridae. Adult histerids are usually shiny beetles (black or metallic-green) which have an introverted head. The carrion-feeding species only become active at night when they enter the maggot-infested part of the corpse to capture and devour their maggot prey. During daylight they hide under the corpse unless it is sufficiently decayed to enable them to hide inside it. They have fast larval development with only two larval stages. Among the first beetles to arrive at a corpse are Histeridae of the genus "Saprinus". "Saprinus" adults feed on both the larvae and pupae of blowflies, although some have a preference for fresh pupae. The adults lay their eggs in the corpse, inhabiting it in the later stages of decay.

*Carrion Beetles - Family Silphidae- Adult Silphidae have an average size of about 12 mm. They are also referred to as burying beetles because they dig and bury small carcass underground.cite journal |last=Scott |first=Michelle Pellissier |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1998 |month=January |title= |journal=Annual Review of Entomology |volume=43 |issue= |doi= |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-03 |quote=|pages=595–618 ] Both parents tend to their young and exhibit communial breeding. The male carrion beetles job in care is to provide protection for the breed and carcass from competitors.
*Ham Beetles - Family Cleridae
*Carcass Beetles - Family Trogidae

* Skin/Hide Beetles - Family Dermestidae. Hide beetles are important in the final stages of decomposition of a carcass. The adults and larvae, which are hairy, feed on the dried skin, tendons and bone left by fly larvae. Hide beetles are the only beetle with the enzymes necessary for breaking down keratin, a protein component of hair.

*Scarab Beetles - Family Scarabaeidae- Scarab beetles may be any one of around 30,000 beetle species worldwide that are compact, heavy-bodied and oval in shape. The flattened plates, which each antenna terminates, are fitted together to form a club. The outer edges of the front legs may also be toothed or scalloped. Scarab beetles range from 0.2 to 4.8 in (5 to 120mm) in length. These species are known for being one of the heaviest insect species and since they have beautifully coloured, large, and hard highly polished forewings, many species are popular with insect collectors. [ unknown,]

*Sap beetles - Family Nitidulidae


Many mites (class acari) feed on corpses with "Macrocheles" mites common in the early stages of decomposition, while Tyroglyphidae and Oribatidae mites such as Rostrozetes feed on dry skin in the later stages of decomposition.

Nicrophorus beetles often carry on their bodies the mite Poecilochirus which feed on fly eggs. If they arrive at the corpse before any fly-eggs hatch into maggots, the first eggs are eaten and maggot development is delayed. This may lead to incorrect PMI estimates. "Nicrophorus" beetles find the ammonia excretions of blowfly maggots toxic, and the "Poecilochirus" mites, by keeping the maggot population low, allow "Nicrophorus" to occupy the corpse.


Moths (order lepidoptera) specifically Clothes-moths - Family Tineidae - Is closely related to the butterfly. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are crepuscular and diurnal species. Moths feed on mammalian hair during their larval stages and may forage on any hair that remains on a body. They are amongst the final animals contributing to the decomposition of a corpse.

Wasps, ants, and bees

Wasps, ants, and bees (order hymenoptera) are not necessarily necrophagous. While some feed on the body, some are also predatory, and eat the insects feeding on the body. Bees and wasps have been seen feeding on the body during the early stages. This may cause problems for murder cases in which larval flies are used to estimate the post mortem interval since eggs and larvae on the body may have been consumed prior to the arrival on scene of investigators.

*Wasps - (particularly family Vespidae). Wasps exhibit a range of social difficulty, from private living to eusocial colonies. Eusocial meaning a supportive group in which usually one female and several males are reproductively active. The non-breeding creature cares for the young or defend and supply for the group. Wasps are commentable for studies of evolutionary origin and maintenance of social behavior in animals.cite journal |last=O'Donnell |first=Sean|authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1998 |month=January| title = Reproductive Caste Determination In Eusocial Wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)|journal=Annual Review of Entomology |volume=43 |issue= |page=323-346|doi=10.1146/annurev.ento.43.1.323 |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-03 |quote= | pages = 323]

*Ants - Family Formicidae. Among the most widespread and damaging of introduced species are ants. Many ants share some characteristics that ease their preamble, institution, and subsequent range expansion. One feature of their importance is the ability to establish numerically large, ecologically dominant colonies.cite journal |last=Tsutsui |first=Neil D.|authorlink= |coauthors=Suarez Andrew V. |year=2003 |month= |title=The Colony Structure and Population Biology of Invasive Ants |journal=Conservation Biology |volume=17 |issue=1 |page=48-58 |doi=10.1046/j.1523-1739.2003.02018.x |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-03 |quote= | pages = 48] The South's warm and wet weather are ideal for imported fire ants. Fire ants colonies have blossomed in the prime grazing and crop land, along roadsides, and in parks and lawns. During 1940s and 1950s is when the most entensive and rapid spread of fire ants occurred.cite journal |last=Lofgren |first=C. S.|authorlink= |coauthors=Banks W. A. & Glancey B. M. |year=1975 |month=January |title= |journal=Annual Review of Entomology |volume=20 |issue= |doi=10.1146 annurev.en.20.01075.000245 |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-03 |quote=|pages=1–30 ]
*Bees - Superfamily Apoidea.Forensic entomologists have been used in several cases where parents have used bees to sting their children as a form of discipline. Also entomologists have been called on to determine whether or not bees or wasps have been the cause of an accident. Whether through their presence or by stinging it has be speculated that these insects have been the cause of numerous automobile accidents.

Modern techniques

Many new techniques have been discovered and used in order to more accurately gather evidence, or possibly introduce an entire new way to look at old information. Over the years it has become more popular as case studies open doors to new ideas and techniques once though defunct, but now have proved to be invaluable in some courtroom battles. Forensic entomology not only uses arthropod biology, but it pulls from other sciences introducing fields like chemistry and genetics, exploiting their inherent synergy through the use of DNA in forensic entomology.

canning electron microscopy

Usually fly larvae are used to aid in the determination of a PMI. However, sometimes the body may not contain maggots and only the eggs are present. In order for the data to be useful the eggs must be identified down to a species level to get an accurate estimate for the PMI. There are many techniques currently being developed to differentiate between the various species of forensically important insects. A study in 2007 demonstrates a technique that can use scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to identify key morphological features of eggs and maggots. [Mendonça, Paloma Martins. "Identification of fly eggs using scanning electron microscopy for forensic investigations." 2008. Micron. 13 March 2008] Some of the morphological differences that can help identify the different species are the presence/absence of anastomosis, the presence/absence of holes, and the shape and length of the median area.

The SEM method provides an array of morphological features for use in identifying fly eggs; but, this method does have some disadvantages. The main one is that it requires expensive equipment and can take time to identify the species from which the egg originated, so it may not be useful in a field study or to quickly identify a particular egg.cite journal |last=Sukontason et al. |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2004 |month=July |title=Identification of Forensically Important Fly Eggs Using A Potassium Permanganate Staining Technique |journal=Micron |volume=35 |issue=5 |pages=391–395 |doi=10.1016/j.micron.2003.12.004 |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-01 ] The SEM method is good if you have ample time and resources to determine the species of the particular fly egg. The ability to use these morphological differences gives forensic entomologists a powerful tool that can help with estimating a post mortem interval and with other relevant information.

Potassium permanganate staining

Sometimes scanning electron microscopy is not available and a quicker and lower cost technique can be found in potassium permanganate staining. This process involves a few basic steps. Once the eggs intended to be stained are collected, they are rinsed with a normal saline solution and then moved to a glass petri dish. The eggs are then soaked in a 1% potassium permanganate solution for one minute. Then the eggs were dehydrated and mounted onto a slide for observation. These slides can be used with any light microscope with a calibrated eyepiece to compare various morphological features. The most important and useful features observed for identifying eggs are things like the size, length, and width of the plastron, as well as the morphology of the plastron in the area around the micropyle. The various measurements and observations are then compared to standards for forensically important species and used to determine the species of the egg.

Mitochondrial DNA

In 2001, a method was devised by Jeffery Wells and Felix Sperling to use mitochondrial DNA to differentiate between different species of the subfamily Chrysomyinae. This is particularly useful when working on determining the identity of specimens that do not have distinctive morphological characteristics at certain life stages. [Wells, D. and Sperling Felix A. H. "DNA-based identification of forensically important Chrysomyinae (Diptera: Calliphoridae)"Forensic Science International Volume 120, Issues 1-215 August 2001 110-115 . 3 March 2008 ]

Mock crime scenes

A valuable tool that is becoming very common in the training of forensic entomologists is the use of mock crime scenes using pig carcasses. The pig carcass represents a human body and can be used to illustrate various environmental effects on both arthropod succession and the estimate of the post mortem interval. [Schoenly, Kenneth G. [ "Recreating Death's Acre in the School Yard: Using Pig Carcasses as Model"] American Biology Teacher v68 n7 September 2006 402-410 . 3 March 2008 ]

Gene expression studies

Although physical characteristics and sizes at various instars have been used to estimate fly age, more recently a study has been conducted to determine the age of an egg based on the expression of particular genes. This is particularly useful in developmental stages that do not change in size, such as the egg or pupa, where only a general time interval can be estimated based on the duration of the particular developmental stage. This is done by breaking the stages down into smaller units separated by predictable changed in gene expression.cite journal |last=Tarone |first=Aaron M. |authorlink= |coauthors=Jennings, Kimberley C.; Foran, David R. |year=2007 |month=November |title=Aging Blow Fly Eggs Using Gene Expression: A Feasibility Study |journal=Journal of Forensic Sciences |volume=52 |issue=6 |pages=1350–1354 |doi=10.1111/j.1556-4029.2007.00587.x |url= |accessdate= 2008-04-01 |doi_brokendate=2008-06-25] Three genes were measured in an experiment with "Drosophila melanogaster": bicoid (bcd), slalom (sll), and chitin synthase (cs). These three genes were used because they are likely to be in varied levels during different times of the egg development process. These genes all share a linear relationship in regards to age of the egg; that is, the older the egg is the more of the particular gene is expressed. However, all the genes are expressed in varying amounts. Different genes on different loci would need to be selected for another fly species. The genes expressions are mapped in a control sample to formulate a developmental chart of the gene expression at certain time intervals. This chart can then be compared to the measured values of gene expression to accurately predict the age of an egg to within two hours with a high confidence level. Even though this technique can be used to estimate the age of an egg, the feasibility and legal acceptance of this must be considered for it to be a widely utilized forensic technique. One benefit of this would be that it is like other DNA-based techniques so most labs would be equipped to conduct similar experiments without requiring new capital investment. This style of age determination is in the process of being used to more accurately find the age of the instars and pupa, however, it is much more complicated as there are more genes being expressed during these stages. The hope is that through this, and other techniques similar to it, a more accurate PMI can be obtained.

Insect activity case study

A preliminary investigation of insect colonization and succession on remains in New Zealand, revealed the following results on decay and insect colonization.cite journal | author=Eberhardt TL, Elliot DA. | title=A preliminary investigation of insect colonisation and succession on remains in New Zealand | journal=Forensic Sci. Int. | year=2008 | volume=176 | issue=2-3 | pages=217-223 | pmid=17997065]

Open field habitat

This environment had a daily average maximum temperature of 19.4 degrees Celsius and a daily minimum temperature of 11.1 degrees Celsius. The average rainfall for the first 3 weeks in this environment was 3.0 mm/day. Around days 17-45, the body began to start active decay. During this stage, the insect successions started with Calliphora stygia, which lasted until day 27. The larvae of Chrysomya rufifacies were present between the day 13 and day 47. The H. rostrata, larvae of Lucilia sericata, Psychodidae family, and sylvicola were found to occur relatively late in the bodies decay.

Coastal sand-dune habitat

This environment had an average daily maximum temperature of 21.4 degrees Celsius and minimum of 13.5 degrees Celsius. The daily average rainfall was recorded as 1.4 mm/day for the first 3 weeks in this environment. The post-decay time interval, beginning at day 6 after death and ending around day 15 after death, is greatly reduced from the average post-decay time, due to the high average temperature of this environmnet. Insects obtained late in the post-active stage include the Callihora quadrimaculat, adult Phaeroceridae, Psychodidae and Piophilidae (no larvae from this family were obtained in recovery).

Native bush habitat

This environment had recorded daily average maximum and minimum temperatures were 18.0 and 13.0 degrees Celsius, respectively. The average rainfall in this habitat was recorded at 0.4 mm/day. After the bloat stage, which lasted until day 7 after death, post active decay began around day 14. In this habitat, the H. rostrata, Phoridae adult, Sylvicola larvae and adult are the predominant species remaining on the body during the pre-skeletonization stages.

Forensic entomology in scientific and fictional literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries

Throughout its history the study of forensic entomology has not remained an esoteric science reserved only for entomologists and forensic scientists. Early twentieth-century popular scientific literature began to pique a broader interest in entomology. The very popular ten-volume book series, Alfred Brehem’s "Thierleben" (Life of Animals, 1876-1879) expounded on many zoological topics, including arthropods. The accessible writing style of French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre was also instrumental in the popularization of entomology. His collection of writings "Souvenirs Entomologique", written during the last half of the 19th century, is especially useful because of the meticulous attention to detail to the observed insects’ behaviors and life cycles. [Benke, Mark. (2001). A brief history of forensic entomology. Forensic Entomology International, 120, page 8.] [“Jean Henri-Fabre.” Scarab Workers World Directory. January 1998 - January 2007. University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum-Division of Entomology. 13 March 2008. ]

The real impetus behind the modern cultural fascination with solving crime using entomological evidence can be traced back to the works "Faune de Tombeaux" (Fauna of the Tomb, 1887) and "Les Faunes des Cadavres" (Fauna of the Cadaver, 1894) by French veterinarian and entomologist Jean Pierre Mégnin. These works made the concept of the process of insect ecological succession on a corpse understandable and interesting to an ordinary reader in a way that no other previous scientific work had done. It was after the publication of Mégnin’s work that the studies of forensic science and entomology became an established part of Western popular culture, which in turn inspired other scientists to continue and expand upon his research. [Benke, Mark. (2001). A brief history of forensic entomology. Forensic Entomology International, 120, page 5]

The use of forensic science, including forensic entomology, became a popular part of fiction beginning with the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. He is noted for including graphic depictions of human decomposition in some of his works, including entomological references. The poem "The Conqueror Worm", published in 1843, features death symbolized through a "worm" feasting upon human remains. [Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1984. Page 815] The worm is a reference to the maggots which are present on a corpse after death and aid in decomposition. ["Corpse Fauna: Flies." Death Online. 2003. Australian Museum Online. 12 March 2008 .] In his short story "The Premature Burial," published in 1850, he discusses the Victorian Era’s fascination with being buried alive, including references to autopsy procedures of the day and the known pattern of human decomposition. [Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1984. Pages 261-271] Poe is also recognized as the inventor of the modern detective story. [Marlowe, Stephen. "Introduction." The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales. New York: New American Library, 1998.] "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," published in 1841, follows detective C. Auguste Dupin as he attempts to solve the murder of two women. Dupin carefully assesses the crime scene, noting such forensically important evidence as location and conditions of the bodies, as well as physical evidence present at the scene. Although no specific entomological reference is present, the process of crime scene evaluation is similar to that which a forensic entomologist would undergo using a Death Scene Form. [Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1984. Pages 2-25 ] [Byrd, Dr. J. H. "Scene Form." Forensic Entomology. 2007. 12 March 2008 ] Poe’s character Dupin was the inspiration for countless other analytical crime-solvers, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes. [Marlowe, Stephen. "Introduction." The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales. New York: New American Library, 1998. ]

In film

ilence of the Lambs

In the movie "The Silence of the Lambs", a series of murders are committed in which the killer skins his victims, leading the investigators to dub the unidentified killer "Buffalo Bill." In a scene depicting an autopsy of one of the victims, the investigators notice something in the victim's throat. The pupa of a Death's-head Hawkmoth is removed with forceps. In another scene, entomologists in the film explain to investigators that the particular species discovered on the victim, identified as "Acherontia styx", is not native to the United States and must have been imported by the killer. Because of the enormous popularity of the film The Silence of the Lambs, these scenes referencing the overlap between entomology and forensic science are what most people associate with the work of forensic entomologists. ["The Silence of the Lambs." The Internet Movie Database. 12 March 2008 .]

My Girl

In the 1991 movie "My Girl", protagonist Thomas Jay suffers a tragic death due to anaphylaxis after being stung by bees, to which he was mortally allergic. Oftentimes with such cases death due to anaphylaxis, an immediate cause of death may not be apparent, requiring the expertise of a forensic entomologist. ["My Girl." The Internet Movie Database. 12 March 2008 . ]

TV Shows

CSI: Las Vegas

In the television show "", forensic entomologist Gil Grissom is famous for his knowledge of bugs. He is a valuable part of the CSI team with his ability to distinguish insect types and their significance at the crime scene.


In the television show "Bones", Jack Hodgins is the forensic teams entomologist, frequently working to identify the postmortem interval from insects found with the remains.

Essential Entomologist Equipment

*Fly traps

Forensic Facts

*Johannes Purkinje published the first thesis to classify people by their fingerprints.
*Dr. Edmond Locard opened the world's first police crime laboratory in 1910.
*There are roughly 8000 entomologist in the United States.
*In 1892, the first conviction due to fingerprinting occurred.

ee also

*Forensic entomologist
*Forensic entomology and the law
*Insect indicators of abuse or neglect



*Death's Acre, by William Bass and Jon Jefferson
*Entomology and the Law, by Bernard Greenburg
*A Fly for the Prosecution, by M. Lee Goff
*Secret Weapons, by Thomas Eisner

Further reading

*Byrd, J. H. and J. L. Castner. "Forensic Entomology: The Utility of Arthropods in Legal Investigations". 2001. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. (ISBN 0-8493-8120-7)
*Smith, K. G. V. 1986. "A Manual of Forensic Entomology". Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY, 205 pp. (ISBN 0-8014-1927-1). A technical hardback designed for professional entomologists.
*Catts, E. P. and N. H. Haskell, eds. 1990." Entomology & Death: A Procedural Guide". Joyce's Print Shop, Inc., Clemson, SC, xii + 182 pp. (ISBN 0-9628696-0-0) Spiralbound also aimed at professional entomologists, but shorter and with a popular style.
*Greenberg, B. and Kunich, J.C., , 2002 "Entomology and the Law: Flies as Forensic Indicators" Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom 356 pp (ISBN 0-521-80915-0).
* Leclerque, M. 1978 "Entomologie médicale et Médecine légale Datation de la Mort", Masson ed. Paris, 112p
* Nuorteva P 1977. "Sarcosaprophagous insects as forensic indicators". In CG Tedeschi, WG Eckert & LG Tedeschi (eds), "Forensic Medicine: a Study in Trauma and Environmental Hazards", Vol. II, WB Saunders, New York, p.1072-1095.
* Goff, M.L. 2000. A fly for he prosecution: How insect evidence helps solve crimes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 225p (ISBN 0-674-00220-2)
*Liu, D.; Greenberg, B. 1989 Immature stages of some flies of forensic importance "Annals of the Entomological Society of America" 82(1):80-93.
*Catts, E.P.; Goff, M. L. 1992 Forensic entomology in criminal investigations "Annual Review of Entomlogy" 37:253-272.
*Wells, J.D. & Stevens, J.R. 2008 Application of DNA-Based Methods in Forensic Entomology. "Annual Review of Entomology" 53: 103-120.

External links

*dmoz|Science/Biology/Zoology/Arthropoda/Entomology/Forensic_Entomology|Forensic Entomology
* []
* [ European Association for Forensic Entomology homepage]
* [ Collection of original articles about Forensic Entomology. Many downloadable illustrated pdf's of cases]
* [ Institute of Forensic Entomology Vienna Click on the pictures for enlargements and graphs]
* [ What happens to the body after death]
* [ Pastoral putrefaction down on the Body Farm: Autopsy, HBO Documentaries]
* [ Dating Death Great Moments of Science]
* [ DNA techniques for forensic entomology]
* [ pdf about forensic entomology Deon Canyon]
* [ Forensic Entomology page from Australia (Ian Dadour)]
* [ Visible Proofs]
* [ Medical Zoology Pages]
* [ "Survey on carrion-visiting beetles"] – Research into the fauna of carrion-visiting beetles in Erlangen, Bavaria (2006): Carrion is an ecosystem of its own. Diverse species of beetles – belonging to different guilds – arrive and depart from carrion at different times – succession occurs. The arrival time and growth rates of beetles inhabiting corpses depending on weather, location and type of carrion have been studied.
* [ Forensic Entomology the next step (ForensicWiki)]

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