Advertisement

Experimental and Applied Acarology

, Volume 49, Issue 1–2, pp 21–36 | Cite as

Early post-mortem changes and stages of decomposition in exposed cadavers

  • M. Lee GoffEmail author
Article

Abstract

Decomposition of an exposed cadaver is a continuous process, beginning at the moment of death and ending when the body is reduced to a dried skeleton. Traditional estimates of the period of time since death or post-mortem interval have been based on a series of grossly observable changes to the body, including livor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis and similar phenomena. These changes will be described briefly and their relative significance discussed. More recently, insects, mites and other arthropods have been increasingly used by law enforcement to provide an estimate of the post-mortem interval. Although the process of decomposition is continuous, it is useful to divide this into a series of five stages: Fresh, Bloated, Decay, Postdecay and Skeletal. Here these stages are characterized by physical parameters and related assemblages of arthropods, to provide a framework for consideration of the decomposition process and acarine relationships to the body.

Keywords

Decomposition Forensic Acari Post-mortem changes Succession 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks are extended to Drs. William C. Rodriguez III, Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, AFIP and Edward T. McDonough, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Connecticut, for illustrations of post-mortem artifacts and stages of decomposition.

References

  1. Avila FW, Goff ML (2000) Arthropod succession patterns onto burnt carrion in two contrasting habitats in the Hawaiian Islands. J Forensic Sci 43:581–586Google Scholar
  2. Blacklith RE, Blacklith RM (1990) Insect infestations of small corpses. J Nat Hist 24:699–709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bornemissza GF (1957) An analysis of arthropod succession in carrion and the effect of its decomposition on the soil fauna. Aust J Zool 5:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Braack LEO (1986) Arthropods associated with carcasses in the northern Kruger National Park. S Afr J Wildl Res 16:91–98Google Scholar
  5. Clark MA, Worrell MB, Pless JE (1997) Post-mortem changes in soft tissue. In: Froede RC (ed) Handbook of forensic pathology, 2nd edn. CAP, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  6. Coe M (1978) The decomposition of elephant carcasses in the Tsavo (East) National Park, Kenya. J Arid Environ 1:71–86Google Scholar
  7. Cornaby B (1974) Carrion reduction by animals in contrasting tropical habitats. Biotropica 6:51–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis JB, Goff ML (2000) Decomposition patterns in terrestrial and intertidal habitats on O’ahu Island and Coconut Island, Hawai’i. J Forensic Sci 45:824–830Google Scholar
  9. Early M, Goff ML (1986) Arthropod succession patterns in exposed carrion on the island of O’ahu, Hawaiian Islands, USA. J Med Entomol 23:520–531PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Fisher BAJ (2007) Techniques of crime scene investigation, 7th edn. CRC Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Gill-King H (1996) Chemical and ultrastructural aspects of decomposition. In: Haglund WD, Sorg MH (eds) Forensic taphonomy: the post-mortem fate of human remains. CRC Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Goff ML (1993) Estimation of post-mortem interval using arthropod development and successional patterns. Forensic Sci Rev 5:81–94Google Scholar
  13. Gunatilake K, Goff ML (1989) Detection of organophosphate poisoning in a putrefying body by analyzing arthropod larvae. J Forensic Sci 34:714–716PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Hewadikaram KA, Goff ML (1991) Effect of carcass size on rate of decomposition and arthropod succession patterns. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 12:235–240PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lord WD, Goff ML (2003) Forensic entomology: application of entomological methods to the investigation of death. In: Froede RC (ed) Handbook of forensic pathology, 2nd edn. CAP, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  16. McLemore J, Zumwalt RE (2003) Post-mortem changes. In: Froede RC (ed) Handbook of forensic pathology, 2nd edn. CAP, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  17. Megnin P (1894) La faune des cadavers: application de l’entomologie a la medecine legale. Encyclopedia Scientifique des Aide-Memoire, Masson et Gauthier-Villars, Paris, FranceGoogle Scholar
  18. Nashelksy M, McFelley P (2003) Time of death. In: Froede RC (ed) Handbook of forensic taphonomy, 2nd edn. CAP, IllinoisGoogle Scholar
  19. Payne JA (1965) A summer carrion study of the baby pig Sus scrofa Linnaeus. Ecology 46:592–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Reed HB (1958) A study of dog carcass communities in Tennessee with special reference to the insects. Am Midl Nat 59:213–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rodriguez WC, Bass WM (1983) Insect activity and its relationship to decay rates of human cadavers in East Tennessee. J Forensic Sci 30:836–852Google Scholar
  22. Shalaby OA, de Carvalho LML, Goff ML (2000) Comparison of patterns of decomposition in a hanging carcass and a carcass in contact with the soil in a xerophytic habitat on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. J Forensic Sci 45:1267–1273PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Shean BS, Messinger L, Papworth M (1993) Observations of differential decomposition on sun exposed vs. shaded pig carrion in costal Washington State. J Forensic Sci 38:938–949PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Tullis K, Goff ML (1987) Arthropod succession in exposed carrion in a tropical rainforest on O’ahu Island, Hawai’i. J Med Entomol 24:332–339PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chaminade University of HonoluluHonoluluUSA

Personalised recommendations