Forensic entomologists help solve crimes
By their natural instinct, insects render invaluable help to the investigators.
Employing various insects like bugs and flies to unravel crimes of certain types is now a practice adopted by sleuths. This new breed of crime detectives are called forensic entomologists who go in search of unorthodox clues.
Instead of searching for murder weapons and identity of victims, the sleuths look searchingly for various bugs and flies that are found everywhere and anywhere. Based on these creepy creatures they predict the time and location of the crime and also unerringly, in most of the cases, the suspect who is really the criminal who perpetrated the crime.
Their work in predicted on one of the ancient laws of nature, that when you perish and leave the mortal soils you are recycled into the Earth. After all, if nature didn’t aid in the clearance of all that is decaying and the dead the planet we inhabit would not be a livable place.
This arduous task of clearance is partly assigned to insects that come to succour to reduce the complex biological body into simpler organic elements. They are the prime witnesses who supply most important evidence about the crime, even ghastly ones.
Insects, such as bees and wasps, are being trained for detection of landmines. Scientists in Croatia have unveiled specially-bred colonies of bees that can detect buried landmines three miles away.
The bees are trained by being fed an irresistible solution of sugar mixed with the smell of explosives. The idea is that the bees’ keen sense of smell soon associates the smell of explosives with food.
“Eventually they associate the smell of any explosives with easy food and will literally make a beeline for them”, said Professor Mateja Janes who trains the bees.
On the other hand, Dutch scientists have trained a species of wasp with an acute sense of smell to detect buried mines. They are also endeavouring to programme the insects to serve as an early warning system in biological weapons.
Interestingly, the technique for training the insects is no different to that used for dogs each being rewarded when it sniffs out a hidden object.
“The wasp is placed inside a box. The smell of the substance which we need it to detect is passed through a hole in the side. Simultaneously, an odourless sugar solution is also placed inside the box to create the association between the smell and the food”, Wackers explained.
The next process is to reward the wasp only when it starts to demonstrate foraging behaviour in reaction to the odour in the box. Astonishingly the entire training process which varies slightly between individual insects can take around one hour compared to months for dogs.
The speed of the training makes up
for the fact that a wasp’s life span seldom extends beyond six weeks, whereas a dog’s can see years of active service. Scientists have already sought to placate the manner in which the wasp detects scents using technical hardware.
The chief blockade for researchers has been that unlike dogs the wasp is unable to bark to draw its handler’s attention to what it had just “sniffed”. Instead, the insect, barely six centimetres long, rubs its antennae against the bottom of the box.
“Obviously soldiers in battlefield conditions couldn’t be trying to gauge the foraging movements of six-centimetre long insect”, said Wackers. “That’s why after protracted research my colleagues in the US have now successfully produced a component that functions as an alarm and can electronically register when the wasp has detected a mine.”
While the bees and wasps could be imparted training to detect explosives and mines no such training is given for the detection of a murder suspect in case of manslaughter. Nature itself makes them detect the suspect as also the time of the committal of the crime.
It works like this. A dead creature is a rich source of fodder. Once they arrive they convert it their home. They settle, mate, breed, lay eggs, hatch into larvae, pupa, metamorphose into the adult insect and the cycle begins all over again.
Each stage of the cycle is precisely timed. It is the timing that carries the information which the forensic entomology requires and utilises in solving the crime mystery.
Entomology is science of study of insects. Inter alia, entomology details the complex and elaborate life-cycle of an insect. Insects are very particular about their breeding conditions. They need the exact amount of sunshine and a perfect temperature, indoors or outdoors.
It is this factor that comes to the aid of the forensic entomologists. By glancing at the various insects and the different stages that they are in, they can with exactitude calculate the time, temperature and location of the crime.
Insect population varies widely from region to region as also from season to season. In USA and Canada where the mapping of insect population has been carried out extensively for various seasons, forensic entomologists are called to tender evidence in cases of crimes.
The pioneer of this field is Dr Gail Anderson of the Simon Fraser University. She and her students not only help solve murders but they are also active in nailing the poachers.
Upwards a century ago, it was Dr Bergeret d’Arbots who founded the genera of forensic entomology when he was called upon to examine the body of a child, ruthlessly killed and interred in a house in 1840. While all conventional clues pointed towards the current tenants as the perpetrators of this horrendous crime, Dr d’Arbots proved otherwise.
By making an in-depth study of the various insect populations around the body, he let out virtually irrefutable evidence indicating that the ghastly crime was executed months ago when there was another household dwelling in the same house. The kind of insects indicated the temperature and season of the crime.
Studies on bees
Today Dr Gail Anderson employs the same methods of studying insect population around the scene of the crime. Her most recent success has been a complex case of bear poaching in Manitoba, Canada.
Here albeit the authorities apprehended a handful of suspects they couldn’t find any stolen bear parts on their person. The petrol officer, however found a type of Blow fly on the bodies of the dead bear cubs and sent the sample to Dr Anderson. Dr Anderson knew the period that the eggs of this insect needed to hatch.
Based on her studies she arrived at a time for the crime that perfectly matched the time for the crime when the vehicle of the suspects was noticed in that area. The suspects were found guilty on relentless questioning and were convicted for the illegal poaching of the bear parts.
Her tremendous achievement in this unique case brought her recognition from the World Wildlife Fund, the Canadian Wildlife Service and various other agencies involved in protection of animals.
Forensic anthropology is an application of expert knowledge
and analysis about skeletal anatomy.