Insects and insect development can use in
investigations. Insects can be used to
determine when, and sometimes where, a
person died and are also sometimes the
subject of product liability cases.
DeAngelis, PhDOSU Ext.
What is forensic entomology?
Forensic entomology is the study of insects
in investigations for civil and criminal
law cases. Homicide investigations usually get
the most attention but product liability cases are
important as well.
Forensic entomology in homicide
Certain species of flies are strongly
attracted to the odor of decomposing human and
animal tissue. In a typical case fly eggs are laid
on a dead body and the resulting larvae, or maggots,
utilize and further breakdown the dead tissue. The
sequence of development from egg to adult fly is
temperature dependent and highly predictable for a
given geographical area.
A forensic entomologist uses the
evidence of this developmental sequence to work
backward to deduce the time since death, or post-mortem
interval. This is the essence of forensic
entomology -- using the developmental sequence of
insects, usually flies, to deduce when death
occurred and hence who might be responsible.
Law enforcement has started to use
entomological evidence in crime scene investigations
to a greater extent in recent years. There is a real
demand for trained forensic entomologists but
unfortunately very few formal university programs
exist in this area. Many forensic entomologists
train first in medical entomology then specialize in
Forensic entomology in civil cases
While homicide investigations get the most
attention other areas where insect evidence is
important are food product tampering, medical
myiasis (maggot infestation of living tissue) cases,
and product liability involving insect comtamination
or damage. Here an example might be a powderpost
beetle infestation in furniture. The question is
"where did the infestation start - lumber mill,
manufacturer, retailer?" (see Related Articles
In a related discipline called forensic
anthropology, evidence associated with human remains
is used to deduce the time and cause of death. The
book Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic
Lab (above) is a popularized account of Dr.
Bill Bass' famous "Body Farm" at the University of
Tennessee where research is conducted on human
remains to determine how bodies decompose under