Forensic Entomology – Using Insects for Crime Investigation ~ Kwentology

Here’s a fascinating news in science that if you ask me which we see in prime-time TV way more often. Forensic entomology, the study of insect and arthropods used in legal investigations.

As it turns out, there are lots of cool ways insects can help us solve crimes. Fair warning, NO! You may not want to watch this on CSI over your lunch.

Forensic Entomology

The field of forensic entomology is actually pretty broad and is commonly divided up into three general areas;
  1. urban
  2. stored product
  3. medico-legal

The urban specialty focuses on insect in human dwellings. Scientists who do this kind of work could surely tell you all kinds of amazing things about “what goes on in your kitchen cabinet that night?”

However, as forensic experts they specialize in investigating both civil and criminal cases. Helping in lawsuits involving say damages from a cockroach of bed bug infestations.

Stored product entomology, meanwhile, usually deals with the contamination of commercial products. Like, if you find a family of dead ants on a loaf of bread, a bunch of moth lings in your candy bar, or spiders in your toilet paper roll.

But the medico-legal area is the most flashy popularized part of the field. It’s what you might see on episode of CSI and often involves reading the signs of blood sucking or blood feeding insects, violent crime scenes. Typically, involving murder, suicide, abuse and neglect.

Forensic DNA Analysis

At a fresh crime scene for example, forensic entomologist would know that tiny flex of what look like spattered blood, could actually be the common roaches were flying and walk through blood elsewhere.

The scene these experts can even match human DNA from the blood found in blood feeding insects leaving you dead.

One murder case in Italy was solved when investigators scrape a blood filled mosquito off the wall in a suspect's house and found it contained the blood of the victim.

Forensic Entomology Estimate the Corpse Time of Death

Take that bad guys! Crime-solving bug loving scientists are also often called upon to help estimated victims time of death. A dead body goes through a whole series of phases from putrefaction and fermentation to dry decay and skeletonization.

Each phase attract different life stages in types of insects. Forensic entomologist use this rotating cast of creatures to help determine a body's death in a couple of ways. Usually involving larval development and species succession.
  • The larval development technique states the size and prevalence of maggots and other larva. It is usually useful if the body is less than a month old.
  • If the corpse is over a month, it's best to use the species succession method. For example, blow flies have great equipment that quickly discovering dead meat. It’s because they like their food flesh and full of fluids.

So, determining what phase therein can often provide the most accurate estimates for time of death. However, as the flesh dries out the blowflies take off. Just as other species like the coffin fly arrive in force.
Image of Forensic Entomology

Once the corpse too dried for even maggots, all the flies clear out.

Then, beetles often role in, some species like hiding carrion beetles have robust mouth parts that can work on the remaining dried flesh in ligaments.

Mites and moth larva round out the final cleaning crew. These insects consume the remaining hair and leaving only the skeleton. So, thanks to all the insects out there and the scientists who study them for solving crimes and doing a job.
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