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Forensic Entomology

Forensic Entomology

This article talks about forensic entomology, the importance of data collection, insects that are collected, and lastly the education required to become a forensic entomologist...
CareerStint Staff
Forensic Entomology is the science of using the insects and all arthropods that are found in decomposing remains to aid in legal investigations. The field of forensic entomology is very vast and is broken down into three general areas that is medico-legal, urban and stored product pests.

Medico-legal forensic entomology primarily deals with the criminal part of the legal system and focuses on the feeding insects that are found in human remains. The urban forensic entomology focuses on the insects that affect the humans and the immediate environment. Both the criminal and civil components are involved as the urban pests feed on both the living and the dead. Finally the stored product pest forensic entomology deals with insects that are found in food and deals with criminal and civil proceedings that involve food contamination.

Data Collection

The forensic entomologists have to take a large amount of data from the scene. A large amount of time and energy goes into collecting the data as everything that it observed and collected has to hold up in the court of law. The first bit of information that is collected is the climatic conditions of the area. In addition to this, the ambient air and maggot mass temperature are required as they help in determining the growth of insects that are collected during the investigation.

A death scene is one of the most important tools available to a forensic entomologist as they can make many key observations including the placement of the maggot mass on the body, temperatures and the stage of decay. All evidence collected as to pass in the judicial system without any contamination, tampering or any other outside variable that could affect the legitimacy of the evidence during the trial in a court of law.

Insects Used

Collecting the adult insects in the area has to be started immediately before they are disturbed enough to leave because of high amount of law enforcement personnel in the vicinity. The common methods are sweep netting and sticky traps that are placed near the corpse. Collecting the adult insects is very important as it provides as indication as to what species of insects can be found in the corpse in the larvae form.

There is a large variety of insects that are involved in forensic entomology. Here are some of the insects that are mostly necrophagous that is corpse eating and are related to the medico-legal entomology.

  • Flies: The flies belonging to the order diptera are usually the first insects that are seen on a corpse. The main reason behind this that they prefer the moist corpse for the maggots to feed on.
  • Beetles: The beetles belonging to the order coleopteran are seen on the corpse when it is more decomposed. The common beetles that are seen on the corpses are the Rove, Hister and the Carrion beetles. The beetles also lay their eggs inside the corpse and the larvae too are predators.
  • Mites:
  • Mites belong to the class acari. Some varieties of mites feed on corpses during the early stages of decomposition while other feed on the dry skin during the later stages of decomposition.
  • Moths: The clothes moth belonging to the family Tineidae feed on the hair of the remains and also forages on any hair that remains. These are among the final animals that result in the decomposition of the corpse.
Forensic Entomologist - Education

The education that one required to become a forensic entomologist is extremely thorough because of the high level of expertise required to practice this discipline. At the undergraduate level, the prospective student will have to major in entomology. Some students may prefer to major in forensic science but they would still need entomological education. Some of the other classes that all students aspiring to take up forensic entomology include biology, chemistry, genetics, taxonomy, biochemistry, medical entomology, forensic law and general entomology.

Apart from the courses, shadowing or working with professionals in the field of forensic entomology will help the students gain valuable insight. Some other options are taking up a summer internship or performing research or lab work in entomology.