What is forensic entomology? It is a discipline within forensic sciences where specialists use information that they know about insect lifecycles and behaviours to interpret evidence in a legal context,relating to humans and animals. Entomologists don’t just stick to insects; their work can expand to include other arthropods, mites, spiders and macro-invertebrates.
Insect species which are relevant to forensic entomology
What information can we learn from insect activity? Insects are everywhere and can hardly be avoided, so it’s no surprise that sometimes they get mixed up in the evidence left behind – making them extremely valuable to an investigation. Insects can be a vital part of forensic science as they can provide a time and date to a crime or even a geographical position to where it happened. As some insects only become apparent during certain months, they can become a biological calendar for when a crime might have been committed. As well as being a biological calendar, certain insect species are only native in specific countries or hemispheres. This can be used to create an ‘X marks the spot’ on where a crime was committed – even if a body was moved/buried. Because of this, insects can be the key to past and present events as well as the future.
The insects that are particularly relevant to forensic entomological investigations are blow flies (diptera), flesh flies, cheese skippers, hide and skin beetles, rove beetles and clown beetles. These forensically relevant insects can be placed in four categories:
Necrophages, which feed only on the decomposing tissue of the body or body parts. This is the category that blow flies, hide beetles and clown beetles are classed under.
Predators of the necrophages – for example the rove beetles and ground beetles.
Omnivores that consume both the live insects inhabiting the corpse and the dead flesh – ants and wasps.
Opportunist species, which arrive because the corpse is a part of their local environment. This is where mites, hoverflies, butterflies and occasionally spiders are classified.
Forensic entomologists use the evidence they gain from studying insects within legal cases in either civil or criminal courts. Civil court cases include:
Insect infestation in urban contexts.
Stored product infestations/pests.
Criminal court cases include:
Neglect – either animal or human (elderly and children).
Insect infestation of a body – living or dead.
Death in which foul play is suspected.
This is just an introduction into the world of forensic entomology, if you’d like to know more or further your knowledge on this topic check out this book, I found it very interesting and a terrific read:
Forensic Entomology: An Introduction (UK/Europe) Forensic Entomology: An Introduction (US/Worldwide Link) by Dorothy Gennard. Rating – *** “I used my this for my blog post on the basics of forensic entomology. It is perfect if you’re unsure on whether or not you want to pursue this career/discipline. Definitely a good read if your interest is sparked by Dr Hodgins from ‘Bones’, as it explained everything involved within entomology under legal settings.”
Many television programs create 3D animations and computer generated images using highly technical computer programmes to help re-enact the scenes or time frame of a crime. This is mostly used so that the viewer at home can really grasp what crime has been committed and help establish a sense that they are a witness. But in reality these animations and images are becoming an increasingly popular technique used within the courtroom.
Information and evidence can be easily constructed from the traditional methods of forensic photography, blood spatter analysis and eye witness testimonies. But in this modern technological time the information gathered is now being used to create computerised animation that depicts the series of events within a crime. But is this method of providing visual appropriate and correct? Could the animation be showing a display of actions/movements that humans can’t possibly and physically make?
There is a big issue with admissibility, which can cause bias. This occurs when the jurors or judge aren’t aware of an error/uncertainty within the procedure of recreating a real life scene into animation. This can cause them to believe that the evidence is a hundred per cent correct, when in fact there are many errors which were created in the process or animation (Ma & Zheng, 2010). Another big problem arises when studies found that people are five times more likely to remember something they see and hear rather than hearing alone. People are also twice as likely to be persuaded if the arguments are backed with visual evidence (Lederer & Solomon, 1997). So this poses a huge problem as false memories and false testimonies could be influenced, which in the end could cause an innocent person to go to jail for a crime they did not commit.
So with the possibility of creating false memories is the use of 3D animation beneficial for the use of visualising crime scenes within court? It is argued that it is as the use of computerised images creates a higher level of accuracy and speeds up the forensic investigational process but only in major crime types, not every day homicides and robberies. However even though it has limited application in the courtrooms, it can pose to be very useful in formal briefs with the forensic personnel, and within the backstage elements of the investigation itself (Ma & Zheng, 2010).
Lederer FI, Solomon SH. 1997. Courtroom technology – an introduction to the onrushing future. Fifth National Court Technology Conference: National Centre for State Courts. Available here.
Ma M, Zheng H. 2010. Virtual Reality and 3D Animation in Forensic Visualization. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 55, 5. 1227-1231.