Forensic entomologists use their knowledge of insects to aid in legal investigations.
There are three branches of forensic entomology: stored-product forensic entomology, urban forensic entomology, and medicolegal forensic entomology. Stored product investigations involve tracing the origins and behaviors of insects infesting packaged food products. This can mean going back through the supply chain to see whether the breach occurred at the supermarket or warehouse level and can be essential to ensuring public health. Urban forensic entomology deals with potentially threatening structural infestations in habitated areas. They may deal with legal issues ranging from property damage to pest control to abuse cases as their work centers on the effects of insects on humans both living and dead. Often experts in these fields will be called in to provide expertise in civil suits or criminal neglect cases.
Finally, there is medicolegal or medicocriminal forensic entomology, whose focus is insects in decomposing organic matter. Dead bodies attract bugs, which lay eggs; in the space between death and discovery, one corpse can become host to a thriving ecosystem of creepy crawlies. Insects typically infest dead bodies once they begin to decompose, drawn to the gases expelled by dying cells. Since the life cycle of these insects is so limited and visually apparent to the trained eye, a forensic entomologist can inspect the insects present and learn how long the body has been decomposing, which can be essential information for investigators looking to pin down a timeline for the death. By identifying the species present and seeing how developed their society has become - how many generations have eaten, bred, and died; whether further organisms have come to feed, if the organic tissue sustaining the colony has been depleted - an expert can work out what factors contributed to the death.
- Forensic entomology work may include...
- Identifying species of insects
- Extracting larvae for analysis
- Establishing where an incident may have occurred based on insects present
- Handling, preserving, and storing specimens to ensure they can be used as admissible evidence
- Reporting findings to investigators or law enforcement
It's tough to be any sort of entomologist without an advanced degree. Typically, forensic entomologists hold PhDs and are certified by The American Board of Forensic Entomology after a rigorous exam with written and practical components. However, jobs in the field may be available to those with a specialized Masters degree in agronomy or insect biology. All candidates are expected to have foundational knowledge of scientific practices at the undergraduate level, including coursework in biochemistry, human physiology, and general entomology, as well as relevant field and lab experience.
Forensic entomologists may be employed on either a full time or contractual basis by local or federal law enforcement; they may also find work in research institutions or consulting with agricultural and public health organizations. If you're fascinated by the world of arthropods and want to contribute to the ways in which they interact with humans and the law, forensic entomology might be worth exploring.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- American Board of Forensic Entomology
- Forensic Entomology
- North American Forensic Entomology Association