, Volume 49, Issue 1-2, pp 37-44
Date: 26 Jun 2009

Mégnin re-analysed: the case of the newborn baby girl, Paris, 1878

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Abstract

This paper analyses acarological evidence from a 130-year-old forensic investigation. It was the first case in forensic acarology, i.e., the first case where mites provided substantial information to estimate the post-mortem interval (PMI). In 1878, the mites found in the mummified body of a newborn baby girl in Paris, France, were studied by acarologist and forensic entomologist Jean Pierre Mégnin. Mégnin estimated around 2.4 million mites in the skull and identified them as Tyroglyphus longior (Gervais), a junior synonym of Tyrophagus longior. He suggested that the arrival of these mites at the corpse would have occurred by phoresy on carrier insects, roughly 5 months before the autopsy. There is no doubt about the identification of the mites, Mégnin was a highly respected acarologist. However, two main factors affecting the biology of Tyrophagus mites were not included in the original analysis. First, Mégnin stated that the mites were phoretic. However, he probably did not have access to information about the natural history of the species, because as a rule Tyrophagus mites are non-phoretic. Considering the omnipresence of Tyrophagus mites in soil, most likely the mites will have arrived almost immediately after death. Second, temperature was not taken into account during the estimations of the mite population growth rate. The new analysis is based on current knowledge of Tyrophagus biology and includes temperature, estimated following a handful of weather reports of the years 1877 and 1878. The new projections indicate that non-phoretic mites may have colonised the body just after death and the colony would have built up over 8 months, contrary to the 5 months proposed by Mégnin. This new lapse of time agrees with the PMI proposed by Brouardel: on 15 January 1878 he postulated the death of the newborn to have occurred some 8 months before the autopsy.