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WIREs Forensic Sci

Forensic entomology for the investigator

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Abstract Forensic entomology is a discipline deeply rooted in history that is still evolving with regards to its utility in both the modern scientific community and medicolegal death investigations. While there are many applications of forensic entomology with the forensic sciences, the most common application is that of the estimation of time since death, also often known as a minimum postmortem interval, which in some instances can be equal to the time of colonization. This time estimation is based on the period of insect activity on a body, and the age of the insects collected from the remains can aid in determining a portion of the postmortem interval. For this estimation, temperature is a key element of entomological evidence collection, along with the insects themselves. Proper documentation of the scene conditions in which the body is discovered is essential for use in an entomological postmortem interval estimation. Likewise, proper documentation and collection of the insects from the body and the death scene—including a representative sample of all areas of colonization and species present—better allows the entomologist to provide a more accurate and useful estimation of time since death. This article is categorized under: Forensic Biology > Interpretation of Biological Evidence Forensic Anthropology > Time Since Death Estimation Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Examination
An illustration depicting the life cycle of a blow fly. Illustration by Sheri Roan
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The decomposition process of a pig carcass, demonstrating the role that insect colonization plays in the tissue loss of decomposing remains. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Decomposition_stages.jpg)
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The simple experiment designed by Redi in 1668 demonstrating that introducing a barrier between flies and rotting meat will prevent flies from laying eggs directly on the meat. Without eggs laid directly on the meat, no maggots appeared on the meat either, thus disproving the theory of spontaneous generation. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esperimento_abiogenesi.jpg)
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The segmented bodies of both insects (such as the bed bug pictured on left) and their arthropod relatives (such as the brown recluse spider picture on right). While both are arthropods with an exoskeleton and jointed appendages, insects will have a total of six legs. Photo courtesy of Public Domain Files (http://www.publicdomainfiles.com/show_file.php?id=13393006812464)
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An illustration depicting the locations for insect evidence collection at a death scene. Illustration by Sheri Roan
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An illustration depicting the locations for temperature collection at a death scene. Illustration by Sheri Roan
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An example of a forensic entomology data form for use on a death scene. Courtesy of Dr Jason Byrd (www.forensic‐entomology.com)
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The “S‐shaped” growth curve typical of the relationship between an insect's growth rate over time. Illustration courtesy of Dr Jason Byrd
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Blow flies are one of the most common insects associated with the decomposition of human and animal remains. In the absence of vertebrate scavenging, blow flies are responsible for consuming most of the soft tissues of a body, often in only a few days. Photo courtesy of J. H. Byrd
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Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Examination
Forensic Anthropology > Time Since Death Estimation

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