Can Bugs Can be Crime Fighters Too? A Brief Summary of Forensic Entomology
Everyone loves a good crime escapade, whether it’s the cops catching the robber, a detective tracking a serial killer, or Bonnie and Clyde falling in love. Television does a great job portraying the thrill of the chase and the push and pull of good versus evil, dramatizing the complicated tension and temptation we as people face on a daily basis. Almost everyone loves the embodiment of conflict; just look at how many seasons Criminal Minds has released (15, with about 20 45-minute long episodes in each season). Whenever Netflix puts out a new serial killer documentary, it goes viral. Even in the 1940’s, Telecrimes and Barney Blake, Police Reporter were smashing hits.
Just about the only people who don’t enjoy these crime dramas are real police officers, detectives, and forensic specialists. Why? Because most of the time, they are wildly inaccurate. These shows and movies are based in fact but are mostly fantasy. It’s hit-or-miss when it comes to accurate police and forensic portrayals in the media.
The hit show Bones follows a forensic anthropologist and an FBI agent as they solve crimes and put away criminals. Temperance Brennan, the anthropologist, is an uptight, logical scientist who initially hates working with Seeley Booth, the FBI agent, who loves a good story and believes in “guilty until proven innocent.”
In season 7 episode 1, “The Memories in the Shallow Grave,” flies prove to be the hero of the episode. Yes, flies. Typically, Eco-Safe Pest Control is hired by restaurants and commercial buildings to keep the flies out; however, our services would not be needed as flies and their larvae connected with crime scenes need to stay in place for forensic entomologists to analyze them. The Bones’ team finds a decaying body in a shallow grave with evidence of foul play. While Brennan is the star of the show, she works with a team of specialists that assist her with cases. One of the specialists is Jack Hodgins, a forensic entomologist. A forensic entomologist is someone who studies insects in criminal investigations to find answers to extremely important questions.
While flies and bugs alike are typically a nuisance in day-to-day life, they can be incredibly important to these investigations. Flies can unknowingly be crime fighters as they are experts in detecting corpses, even minutes after death. As soon as a body starts to decompose, it releases apeneumones through bacterial activity, which attracts flies and other insects. In order to be a skilled forensic entomologist, one must understand the biology of all kinds of flies and insects.
Blow flies (Calliphoridae) are oftentimes the first insects to appear on a cadaver, and they lay eggs on the body so when the larvae hatch, they have ready access to food. After eating, the maggots go underground to pupate, hatching about 10 days later. This life cycle is enlightening for entomologists as they can estimate the time of death based on how far into the cycle the flies have progressed.
Although maggots, or fly larvae, are absolutely disgusting, they can retain other valuable information, such as the presence of drugs or human DNA. If a body is too decomposed to analyze for drugs or poison, forensic entomologists will analyze the insects instead. Larvae from crime scenes have even been used to identify a possible attacker’s DNA.
Though blow flies are more commonly present, coffin flies (Phoridae) are another species of fly that feed on decaying tissue. In “The Memories in the Shallow Grave,” Hodgins discovers coffin flies and is able to determine that the victim has been dead for about a week, which is quite accurate in reality. He also finds beetles (type not specified) in the victim’s brain that have eaten particulates from the murder weapon and linseed oil from the scene of the crime. At the end of the episode, these details are crucial in catching the killer and bringing the victim justice.
Something important to take away from this episode and article is that insects can be a sign of something not right. Flies and maggots in your home or restaurant can in fact be a sign of a decomposing animal such as a rat. This is another reason of why it is so important to have a high quality pest control company like Eco-Safe on call for your home or business.
Even though most insects are quite bothersome, forensic entomology is essential in determining the truth, whether it is depicted in the media truthfully or not. By studying their life cycles and eating habits, scientists can ascertain many details that may otherwise be undiscovered. Bugs really can be crime fighters too.