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Forensic entomology

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Abstract

Necrophagous insects are important in the decomposition of cadavers. The close association between insects and corpses and the use of insects in medicocriminal investigations is the subject of forensic entomology. The present paper reviews the historical background of this discipline, important postmortem processes, and discusses the scientific basis underlying attempts to determine the time interval since death. Using medical techniques, such as the measurement of body temperature or analysing livor and rigor mortis, time since death can only be accurately measured for the first two or three days after death. In contrast, by calculating the age of immature insect stages feeding on a corpse and analysing the necrophagous species present, postmortem intervals from the first day to several weeks can be estimated. These entomological methods may be hampered by difficulties associated with species identification, but modern DNA techniques are contributing to the rapid and authoritative identification of necrophagous insects. Other uses of entomological data include the toxicological examination of necrophagous larvae from a corpse to identify and estimate drugs and toxicants ingested by the person when alive and the proof of possible postmortem manipulations. Forensic entomology may even help in investigations dealing with people who are alive but in need of care, by revealing information about cases of neglect.

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Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Dietrich Mebs (Frankfurt, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Richard Wall (Bristol, UK) for their helpful comments on the language and content of the manuscript.

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Amendt, J., Krettek, R. & Zehner, R. Forensic entomology. Naturwissenschaften 91, 51–65 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-003-0493-5

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