Using insects for clues to solve crimes
With crime on the rise in many cities in America, the police and their special investigative units are often overwhelmed. Law enforcement needs an edge to stay ahead of the crime game but more importantly to get it right. And as science continues to develop and open new doors of inquiry that are fascinating, informative and downright helpful, the world of the insect is being brought to bear to help experts solve crime.
Just outside Huntsville, Texas Entomologist Natalie Lindgren spent a year watching human remains decompose at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility. From a lawn chair she watched corpses rot in order to observe the insects that would feed on the dead tissue. Several times a day, she would visit the deceased, collect insects in action, and document the decomposition with photographs.
Lindgren specializes in forensic entomology or the use of insects and arthropods to uncover the truth at crime scenes. With most corpses, researchers identify common insects such as maggots, the larval forms of blowflies, dermestid beetles, often referred to as skin beetles.
And while the field of entomology is expanding to utilize insect behavior creative ways to help solve crimes, the majority of the field still focuses primarily on two questions. What kinds of insects visit bodies and what kind of evidence do the bugs leave behind? While working on her master’s thesis, Lindgren tied a few more species of insects to human decomposition and showed the marks they might leave behind.
According to Lindgren the most difficult part of the research wasn’t being around rotting corpses, but having to wait for clues to develop. “I had so many questions,” she said. “It was painful to be collecting so much data and to not have it be worked out at the time that I was collecting it.”
Lindgren and her research colleagues wrote about their findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology.