Date of Award
College of Science
Type of Degree
Dr. James E. Joy
Dr. Charles Somerville
Dr. Suzanne Strait
Dr. Leonard J. Deutsch
Carcasses represent a temporary and changing food source for a varied, yet distinct, community of organisms. Arthropods are the major component of this community and are the driving force for the early decomposition process. Although carrion remain for only a finite time, they represent an ecosystem which has a distinctive faunal succession usually initiated by calliphorid flies and variously followed by staphylinid, histerid, and dermestid beetles (Reed, 1958; Payne, 1965; Greenberg, 1991). The developmental rate of arthropods and their faunal progression is being increasingly used in determining time or site of human death. The most widely used application of arthropods in forensics is in determining post mortem interval (PMI). Since most bodies are discovered within the first few weeks, the insects of primary importance in forensic entomology are the blowflies (Calliphoridae) and the flesh flies (Sarcophagidae), which arrive when death is anticipated (Davis, 1928) or immediately after death.
The use of insects to aid forensic investigations is not a new concept. The role of necrophagous insects was understood even in biblical times with specific references to carrion insect activity in Job: 21:26, 19:26, 24:20, and Isaiah: 14:11 (Byrd, 1995). Additionally, even the fly life cycle was understood by ancient Egyptians. A piece of paper found in the mouth of a mummy stated: “The maggots will not turn into flies within you” (Papyrus Gizeh no. 18026:4:14) (fide Greenberg, 1991). A 13th century Chinese manual on forensic medicine, published in 1235 AD entitled The Washing Away of Wrongs (as translated by McKnight, 1981), records how one investigator used insects to solve a murder in a farm community. When farmers were assembled with their sickles, the presumed murder weapon, flies clustered on one sickle, in particular, probably due to the traces of the victim’s blood. Once confronted, the owner of this sickle confessed (McKnight, 1981).
Arthropoda – West Virginia.
Forensic entomology – West Virginia.
Hildreth-Whitehair, Aimee M., "Arthropod succession on rat carrion in West Virginia" (2000). Theses, Dissertations and Capstones. 1659.