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January-February 2006 1

FORUM

Forensic Entomology and Main Challenges in Brazil


LEONARDO GOMES AND CLÁUDIO J. VON ZUBEN
Depto. Zoologia, Univ. Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Av. 24A, 1515, Bairro Bela Vista, 13506-900, Rio Claro, SP

Neotropical Entomology 35(1):001-011 (2006)

Entomologia Forense e os Principais Desafios no Brasil

RESUMO - Exceto o primeiro relato na China no século XIII, as primeiras observações de insetos e
outros artrópodes como indicadores forenses foram documentadas na Alemanha e França durante a
exumação em massa em 1880 por Reinhard, reconhecido como co-fundador dessa disciplina. Após a
publicação francesa do livro popular de Megnin com os aspectos aplicados da entomologia forense, o
conceito rapidamente se espalhou pelo Canadá e Estados Unidos. Agora, pesquisadores reconhecem
que faltam observações sistemáticas que permitam o uso de insetos como indicadores do intervalo
pós-morte. Após a I Guerra Mundial, poucos casos de entomologia forense entraram para a literatura.
Entre 1960 a 1980, Leclercq e Nuorteva foram os principais responsáveis por manter o método na
Europa Central, estudando casos isolados. Desde então, pesquisas básicas nos Estados Unidos, Rússia
e Canadá abriram caminho para a rotina do uso da Entomologia nas investigações forenses. Na
região Neotropical, a identificação dos insetos associados com cadáveres humanos são escassos e têm
recebido pouca atenção no Brasil. Este artigo dá uma visão dos desenvolvimentos históricos nesse
campo, os recentes estudos e os principais problemas e desafios na América do Sul e, principalmente,
no Brasil.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Cadáver, crime, entomologia forense, medicina legal

ABSTRACT - Apart from an early case report from China (13th century), the first observations on
insects and other arthropods as forensic indicators were documented in Germany and France during
mass exhumations in the 1880s by Reinhard, who is considered a co-founder of the discipline. After
the French publication of Mégnin’s popular book on the applied aspects of forensic entomology, the
concept quickly spread to Canada and United States. At that time, researchers recognized that the
lack of systematic observations of insects of forensic importance jeopardized their use as indicators of
postmortem interval. General advances in insect taxonomy and ecology helped to fill this gap over
the following decades. After World Wars, few forensic entomology cases were reported in the scientific
literature. From 1960s to the 1980s, Leclercq and Nuorteva were primarily responsible for maintaining
the method in Central Europe, reporting isolated cases. Since then, basic research in the USA, Russia
and Canada opened the way to the routine use of Entomology in forensic investigations. Identifications
of insects associated with human cadavers are relatively few in the literature of the Neotropical
region and have received little attention in Brazil. This article brings an overview of historic
developments in this field, the recent studies and the main problems and challenges in South America
and mainly in Brazil.

KEY WORDS: Cadaver, crime, forensic entomology, legal medicine

With about one million described species, insects In addition to their ecological importance in
comprise the largest metazoan class (Price 1997) and are decomposition, such insects may represent an important tool
found in virtually all habitats. Vertebrate corpses consist in criminal investigations (Erzinclioglu 1983, Catts & Goff
on excellent food sources for a more or less specialized insect 1992), allowing the estimation of time at which a dead body
community (Anderson & Cervenka 2002) and was colonized (Greenberg 1991). In particular, blowflies
approximately 400 insect species were found to colonize a (Calliphoridae) may serve as a biological clock in measuring
pig cadaver during its several decayment stages (Payne the time of death for two or more weeks. Such an
1965). entomologically-based estimate may be far more precise than
2 Gomes & Zuben - Forensic Entomology and Main Challenges in Brazil

the medical examiner’s, which is limited to about a day or following way: “To answer this question, legal medicine
two after death (Greenberg & Kunich 2002). Therefore must check with another science, the Natural Sciences.”
forensic entomology, defined as the use of insects and other Bergeret provided a brief overview on the life cycle of
arthropods, such as mites, in medicocriminal investigations insects in general. He mistakenly assumed, however, that
(Hall 2001), is becoming an important field in legal metamorphosis would generally require a full year.
medicine. In Brazil, this field is recent and this article Furthermore, he assumed that females generally lay eggs in
describes the historical development of forensic entomology, summer, and that the larvae would transform to pupae the
the methods, current fields and future trends in world and following spring and hatch in summer. Some details of
mainly in Brazil. Bergeret’s calculation: “The eggs of larvae we found on the
corpse in March 1850 must have been deposited here in the
History middle of 1849. Therefore, the corpse must have been
deposited before this time interval. Next to the many living
The first documented forensic entomology case is larvae there were numerous pupae present, and they must
reported by the Chinese lawyer and death investigator Sung come from eggs that have been laid earlier, i.e., 1848. Could
Tz’u in the medico-legal text book “Hsi yüan chi lu” (one it be that the corpse was deposited even before that time
possible translation: “The washing away of wrongs”) (i.e. 1848)? The fly that emerges from the pupae that we
(McKnight 1981, Benecke 2001). This author describes the found in the body cavities, is Musca carnaria L. that lays
case of a stabbing near a rice field. The day after the murder, its eggs before the body dries out. We found other pupae of
the investigator told all workers to lay down their working little butterflies of the night (i.e. moth, Benecke 2001) too,
tools (sickles) on the floor. Invisible traces of blood drew that attack bodies that already dried out. If the body was
blow flies to a single sickle. So confronted, the tool’s owner deposited, say in 1846 or 1847, we would not have found
confessed to his crime and “knocked his head on the floor”. those larvae (i.e. since they would have hatched). In
During medieval times, the correlation between maggots conclusion, two generations of insects were found on the
on a cadaver and the oviposition of adult flies was not corpse, representing two years postmortem: on the fresh
recognized. However, the realistic and detailed illustration corpse, the flesh fly deposited its eggs in 1848, on the dried
of corpses containing maggots was not unusual (Benecke out corpse, the moth laid their eggs in 1849” (Benecke 2001).
2001). The idea of the spontaneous development of life In retrospect, one should understand that Bergeret did
emerging from pure matter prevailed. not focus on forensic entomology in his report to the court
At the beginning of the 19th century it was registered but used entomology as a forensic tool. Indeed, the
that flies are attracted by corpses at a very early stage of mummification of the cadaver appears to be his over-riding
decomposition. Mende (1829) compiled a list of issue of interest in this case. Bergeret quotes Orfila in the
necrophagous insects, including flies, beetles and other taxa matters of mummification and forensic entomology and also
and provided more precise account, but did not link flies to clearly notes the lack of information concerning insect
the time of death. Kamal (1958) described the opportunities succession on corpses in his days.
and problems associated with using insects for the estimation After referencing the work of Bergeret, Brouardel
of the postmortem interval (PMI), many of which are still describes the case of a newborn child that was autopsied by
relevant today. him in 1878 (Brouardel 1879). The mummified body was
During the mass exhumation in France and Germany in inhabited by several arthropods, including butterfly larvae
the 18th and 19th centuries, medico-legal doctors observed and mites, which led to a request for assistance from
that buried bodies are inhabited by arthropods of many kinds. Monsieur Perier, Professor at the Museum of Natural History
In 1831, the French physician Orfila observed a large number in Paris, and Army Veterinarian Pierre Mégnin. Perier
of exhumations (Orfila & Lesueur 1831) and understood reported that the body was most likely dried out before it
that maggots play an important role in the decomposition was abandoned. The determination of mites was left to
of corpses. Mégnin whereas Perier determined the butterfly larvae from
The first modern forensic entomology report to include the genus Aglossa (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Perier concluded
an estimation of PMI was provided by the French physician that the baby may have been born and died the summer
Bergeret in 1855. In his journal article, next to a long before, i.e. around 6-7 months before corpse was autopsied.
description of the criminalistic impact in the trial, he also Mégnin (1894) reported that the whole body was covered
describes the court proceedings: “Within three years, four with a brownish layer composed exclusively of mite skins
different families lived in the flat. The first of them left in and mite feces, but not living mites. Inside the cranium, he
December 1848, and the person examined started to live found large numbers of a single mite species. Initially, a
there at the end of 1844. I was brought to the house of Mme. few larval mites must have been carried to the corpse by
Saillard (i.e. landlady) in rue du Citoyen, 4, to examine the other arthropods. Mégnin calculated that on the whole body,
corpse of a child. The questions we had to deal now were: 2.4 million mites were present dead or alive. He also
(1) was the child born regularly/at the right time; (2) was it calculated that after 15 days, the first generation with 10
alive when it was born; (3) how long did it live; (4) how did females and five males had developed; after 30 days, 100
it die?; (5) what was the time interval between birth and females and 50 males; after 45 days, 1000 females and 500
death?” Questions 1-4 were answered with classical forensic males. Finally, after 90 days, one million females and
pathology methods. Question 5 was commented in the 500,000 males were present. Since this was the number of
January-February 2006 Neotropical Entomology 35(1) 3

individuals he estimated being on the corpse, he made a However, the precise rate of postmortem decay is affected
conservative guess and reported that the corpse must have by a wide range of variables associated with the corpse itself
been abandoned for at least five months (three months of and the surrounding environment. Moreover, after body
mite development, preceded by two months for desiccation) temperature has equilibrated with the environment and
but more likely 7-8 months. following the initial putrefaction, no reliable estimation of
In the following years, side issues such as grave fauna the postmortem interval is possible. Therefore, insects found
(Reinhard 1882, Schmitz 1928), the skeletonizing of corpses on the body provide an important source of information.
(Hauser 1926), or modification or corpses caused by insects Insects are attracted to a body immediately after death,
were explored, but data concerning the biology, ecology and often within minutes (Erzinclioglu 1983, Smith 1986,
succession of necrophagous insects (e.g. Fuller 1934, Anderson 2001). However, oviposition may not occur. Many
Bornemissza 1957) were not applied to determine taxa which appear very early at a death scene are late
postmortem interval in Europe. Leclercq & Leclercq (1948), colonizers or even non-necrophagous species.
Nuorteva (1959a, 1959b), Nuorteva et al. (1967) and According to Smith (1986), four ecological categories
Leclercq (1983), were among the first to use forensic can be identified in a carrion community:
entomology for the determination of the postmortem interval 1. Necrophagous species, feeding and breeding? on the
in Europe. carrion.
This topic was revived by researchers such as Reiter & 2. Predators and parasites of necrophagous species,
Wolleneck (1982, 1983) and Reiter (1984) in studies on the feeding on other insects or arthropods. This group also
development of Calliphora vicina (Wiedemann) and by comprises species which feed on the carrion at first, but
several others (Marchenko 1980, Leclercq 1983, Rodriguez may become predaceous in later larval stages.
& Bass 1983, Greenberg 1985, Lord et al. 1986, Goff et al. 3. Omnivorous species such as wasps, ants and some
1986, Introna et al. 1989). Now, at the beginning of the 21st beetles feeding both on the corpse and its colonizers.
century, forensic entomology is recognized in many countries 4. Other species, such as springtails and spiders, which
as an important forensic tool (Goff 1991, Greenberg 1991, use the corpse as an extension of their environment.
Anderson 1995, Introna et al. 1998, Amendt et al. 2004). Groups 1 and 2 comprise representatives of the orders
Diptera and Coleoptera (Table 1). The succession on corpses
Postmortem Changes of the Human Body can be divided into different waves over the various stages of
decay, although this has been debated (Schoenly & Reid 1987).
After death, human or animal bodies undergo many Nevertheless, as the attractiveness of a decaying body differs
changes caused by autolysis of tissue, which is promoted by among necrophylous insects, changes over time and corpse
the internal chemical breakdown of cells and released enzymes colonization will occur in a predictable sequence (Fig. 1).
as well as by activity of bacteria and fungi, from the intestine Blowflies are typically the first colonizers, attracted by
and the external environment (Amendt et al. 2004). the odour produced during decomposition (Wall & Warnes

Table 1. Selection of insects of forensic importance.


Order Order/family Important genera
Coleoptera Cleridae Necrobia
Dermestidae Dermestes
Geotrupidae Geotrupes
Histeridae Hister
Silphidae Necrodes, Silpha
Staphilinidae Aleochara
Diptera Calliphoridae Calliphora, Chrysomya, Cochliomyia, Lucilia
Drosophilidae Drosophila
Fanniidae Fannia
Muscidae Musca, Ophyra, Muscina
Phoridae Conicera, Megaselia
Piophilidae Piophila
Sarcophagidae Liopygia, Sarcophaga
Stratiomyidae Hermetia
Lepidoptera Tineidae Tineola
Hymenoptera Ichneumonidae Alysia
Pteromalidae Nasonia, Muscidifurax
4 Gomes & Zuben - Forensic Entomology and Main Challenges in Brazil

Figure 1. Succession of adult arthropods on human cadavers in east Tenesse; adapted from Rodriguez & Bass (1983) and Hall
(2001).

1994, Anderson 2001), even over large distances (Braack time of death is therefore more difficult and depends on the
1981, Erzinclioglu 1996). Oviposition first occurs at the season and on other conditions of the aquatic systems. No
orifices or wounds of the corpse. The size of the carcass successional insect model exists which describes the different
affects its attractiveness to flies of the families Calliphoridae waves of colonization of a corpse in aquatic habitats (Merrit
and Sarcophagidae (Nuorteva 1959b, Davies 1990, & Wallace 2001).
Erzinclioglu 1996, Povolný & Verves 1997). Other Studies on animal carcasses have demonstrated that
necrophagous species oviposit preferentially on smaller species composition and insect succession on a cadaver vary
animals such as rodents or even snails. Several factors restrict with respect to the geographical region and season
the colonization of a corpse, such as its burial (Mann et al. (Bornemissza 1957, Arnaldos et al. 2001, Carvalho &
1990) and most Diptera are not able to colonize bodies buried Linhares 2001, Grassberger & Frank 2004). Data collected
deeper than 30 cm (Introna & Campobasso 2000, for a particular region or area should be used with caution
Campobasso et al. 2001); however exceptionally, groups when determining time of death in another region. Even
such as the Phoridae may be found in buried coffins (Schmitz local characteristics of the death scene, like the ecology of
1928, Stafford 1971). Burial, therefore, will influence the the area or the degree of sun exposure, can alter the pattern
time required for insects to reach the carcass as well as the of insect colonization (Smith 1986, Erzinclioglu 1996).
species composition of the necrophagous fauna (Payne et Some insect species are found in both urban and rural areas,
al. 1968, Campobasso et al. 2001). Such delay may not only while others are very specific to a certain habitat (Catts &
occur in buried corpses, but in those that are covered or Haskell 1990). Since species commonly considered as rural
wrapped (Goff 1991) or in cadavers found at indoor scenarios species have also been collected in urban regions, care must
(Gomes et al. 2005). be used in determining whether remains have been moved
The role of freshwater and marine fauna in forensic based on entomological evidence alone (Anderson 2001,
investigations has received very little attention (Payne & Grassberger & Frank 2003a).
King 1972, Goff et al. 1986). Knowledge about the role of
aquatic arthropods during decomposition is still scanty Estimating Time Since Death
(Anderson 2001). Compared to terrestrial habitats,
decomposition in an aquatic environment is completely When human remains are found days, weeks, or even
different. It occurs at a rate roughly half that of longer after death, body temperature, and conditions such
decomposition on land, mainly due to the prevention of as rigor mortis or livor mortis are no longer appropriate for
insect activity and lower temperatures (Knight 1991). Merrit estimating time since death. In such cases, insects may
& Wallace (2001) have distinguished six decompositional provide important indications of the postmortem interval
stages ranging from submerged fresh, floating decay to (PMI). The ages of insect immature stages found on a dead
sunken remains. Aquatic insects of forensic importance body can provide evidence for the estimation of a minimum
belong to the Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera and Diptera; the PMI ranging from one day up to more than one month,
latter are mainly represented by Chironomidae (midges) and depending on the insects species involved and the climatic
Simuliidae (black flies). However, these insects, unlike their conditions at the death scene. However, this period will not
terrestrial counterparts, are not obligatory saprophages, but always match the exact PMI (Oliveira-Costa 2003).
instead use the submerged carrion as a food source and a Exact species identification of insect samples is the first
breeding site. The use of these insects for estimating the essential step in estimating the age of the larvae found. Insect
January-February 2006 Neotropical Entomology 35(1) 5

larvae differ in growth rates and biology. Larvae of Lucilia time of oviposition, such as covering corpses with branches
sericata (Wiedemann), for instance, grow faster at 25oC than or tight wrapping with blankets, carpets or plastic bags, and
larvae of Calliphora vicina (Fabricius) (Amendt et al. 2000); indoor placement, because these factors may delay initial
blowflies (Calliphoridae) usually deposit eggs on a corpse oviposition (Higley & Haskell 2001). Seasonal influences,
while flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) are larviparous. These such as cold and rainy weather, may inhibit or even prevent
examples demonstrate that the same stage of development fly activity and delay oviposition (Erzinclioglu 1996).
of larvae found on a corpse do not necessarily indicate the Blowflies oviposition activity usually peaks in the early
same age or the same time of colonization. For estimating afternoon (Nuorteva 1959a; Baumgartner & Greenberg
the minimum PMI, the age of the immature larval stages 1984, 1985; Greenberg 1990). These insects are not active
must be determined. Various procedures for estimating their at night and generally do not lay eggs during nighttime
age exist, but they are all based on the fact that the rate of (Greenberg 1985). A postmortem interval estimation based
development depends on the ambient temperature (Amendt on that assumption has to consider the possibility that a
et al. 2004). corpse which was found about noon and was infested by
Numerous papers describe ADH/ADD values and recently hatched maggots, could have been deposited there
thresholds for forensically important insects, mainly in the late evening of the previous day. Hence, fly eggs
blowflies and flesh flies (e.g. Kamal 1958, Anderson 2000, detected on a corpse during the night would lead to the
Kaneshrajad & Turner 2004). The usefulness of these conclusion that death occurred during previous day or earlier
methods depends on the thermal history of the immature (Nuorteva 1977). On the other hand, Tessmer et al. (1995)
stages and, to be used, they therefore require the evaluation reported that blowflies fail to lay eggs at night both in urban
of the temperature data at the death scene before the body (with lighting) and rural dark habitats. Hence nocturnal
was found. Hence, multiple temperature measurements have oviposition is a possibility and should be taken into
to be taken at the crime scene, at the body as well in the consideration. Diapause is still a challenge for the forensic
maggot masses on the cadaver. These data should be entomology (Ames & Turner 2003).
compared with data obtained from the nearest weather Competition may affect development and growth of the
station. If these data states are reasonably similar, the larvae. According to Smith and Wall (1997a, b), larvae of
weather station data can simply be used to extrapolate L. sericata in carcasses experience significant levels of
temperatures at the crime scene (Greenberg & Kunich 2002). competition and that the intensity of this competition may
Alternatively, if more substantive differences exist, the be sufficient to reduce the number of adult L. sericata able
weather station temperature data have to be corrected for to emerge successfully.
the average difference using mathematical methods such as Reiter (1984), Smith (1986) and Erzinclioglu (1990)
linear regression, prior to extrapolation of the expected pointed out another factor that could complicate the
temperatures at the crime scene. However, when using estimation of the postmortem interval: in some female flies,
estimates of ambient temperature to calculate development eggs may be retained in the oviduct, having been fertilized
rates, it should be noted that these data are not necessarily as they pass through the spermathecal ducts in advance of
representative of the temperatures experienced by insects the act of oviposition (Wells & King 2001).
in the corpse. Large numbers of maggots may create a so- Parasitoids are also used to calculate de PMI (Amendt
called “maggot mass effect” which, according to their et al. 2000, Grassberger & Frank 2004). The calculation of
metabolic and feeding rate, can generate a temperature developmental times for the host and the parasitoid allowed
substantially higher than those from the ambient (Wells & the estimation of a greater minimum postmortem interval
LaMotte 1995). Moreover, development data obtained in than the estimated development time. However, when
different geographical regions may not be comparable and considering the potential influence, especially of larval
however, in PMI evaluations, great caution must be applied parasitoids, it is important to remember that this specialized
when using data collected by researchers form other group might also create significant problems for forensic
countries. Changes in range and precipitation, which may entomology (Erzinclioglu1990).
lead species to change their time of hatching, length of life
cycle, photoperiod and diapause, must all be taken in DNA Analysis and Entomotoxicology in Forensic
consideration (Greenberg 1991, Grassberger & Reiter 2001, Entomology
Turchetto & Vanin 2004).
Knowing the chronology of insects colonizing carrion Although identification keys are available, only a few
in a certain area, analysis of the fauna on a carcass is useful experts are able to identify the larvae of forensically relevant
to estimate the time elapsed since the death (Goff & Flynn insects and differentiation of the larval stages using
1991, Anderson 2001). A simple succession model can be morphological criteria is still not possible. Time-consuming
used when estimating both the age of a larva and the time rearing of the larvae to adults for identification may delay
interval between death and the insect’s arrival on the body the criminal investigation or cause significant problems
(Wells et al. 2001). Succession data have been used to when rearing fails. Under these circumstances, species
calculate a PMI up to 52 days (Schoenly et al. 1996) and, if identification based on genetic examination is an option.
there are adequate data, may be applied to a much longer PCR amplification of suitable regions of the genome,
time interval. sequence analysis of the amplicons obtained, and alignment
It is important to consider factors that might alter the of the data with reference sequences is the usual and
6 Gomes & Zuben - Forensic Entomology and Main Challenges in Brazil

recommended methods (Sperling et al. 1994, Stevens & Wall little attention in Brazil despite the considerable value of this
1996, Wells & Sperling 1999). procedure that has been demonstrated in several countries.
Larvae which feed on corpses may sequester drugs and Few papers were published between 1908 and 1940 (Pessôa
toxicants which had been ingested by the deceased person. & Lane 1941, Carrera 1991), mostly directly influenced by
Analysis of carrion-feeding insects, to detect toxic substances the pioneer work of Mégnin (1894). Between 1940 and 1991,
and to investigate the effects on insect development, is known not a single paper on this subject was published in Brazil.
as entomotoxicology (Goff & Lord 2001). Bodies in a state However, since then, research groups have appeared in states
of advanced decomposition or that are skeletonized may be of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná and Distrito Federal
difficult to examine for toxicologically relevant substances (Souza 1994, Von Zuben et al 1996, Moura et al. 1997) which
due to the lack of appropriate sources such as tissue, blood have dealt with some of related topics.
or urine. Instead, analysis of insects encountered may enable In the end of 20th century, several studies dealing with
toxicological assessment of the cause of death (Nolte et al. Forensic Entomology become to appear. For example,
1992; Goff & Lord 1994, 2001; Introna et al. 2001; Carvalho & Linhares (2001) identified arthropods
Campobasso et al. 2001). associated with pig carrion and human corpses in Campinas,
The detection of mercury in the larvae of various species State of São Paulo. Andrade et al. (2005) investigated
of blowflies reared on tissues containing known concentrations Calliphoridae in human corpses in the State of Rio Grande
of this metal was described by Nuorteva and Nuorteva (1982). do Norte. Oliveira-Costa (2002, 2003), Oliveira-Costa
(2001a,b) and Oliveira-Costa & Mello-Patiu (2004, 2005)
Ingested drugs or toxicants may influence the development
carried out several studies with human cadavers in crime
of the necrophagous insects (O’Brien & Turner 2004). Goff
scenes to estimate the PMI.
et al. (1991) studied the effect of cocaine and heroin (on the Other important studies were carried out by Gomes &
rate of development in Sarcophagidae and demonstrated that Von Zuben (2003a,b; 2004a,b,c; 2005a,b) and Gomes et al.
maggots of Boetterisca peregrina (Fabricius) develop more (2002, 2003, 2005) studying postfeeding larval dispersal of
rapidly if reared on the liver or spleen of rabbits which had blowflies (Calliphoridae). This sort of study may have
been killed by a lethal dose of cocaine or heroin. important implications for medical-criminal investigations
These examples demonstrate that insects found on that use forensic entomology (Amendt et al. 2004) and can
corpses can be used in toxicological analyses, but also be underestimated if older dispersing larvae or those that
illustrate the risk of calculating an incorrect postmortem disperse farther, faster and deeper are not taken into account
interval because of a modified rate of development of the (Von Zuben et al. 1996; 2002, 2003, 2005).
immature stages in the presence of drugs and toxicants. In 2002, a project was initiated in Brasília, DF, the
Further research should focus on the bioaccumulation and “Centro Nacional de Entomologia Forense” (National Center
metabolism of drugs in necrophagous insects and their effects for Forensic Entomology), linked to the Laboratory of
on the rate of development. Diptera and Forensic Entomology of the Department of
Zoology of Universidade de Brasília. This project is financed
Forensic Entomology in South America by the Departamento de Justiça, Secretaria Nacional de
Segurança Pública and CNPq/MCT and aims at studying
Identifications of insects associated with human cadavers the arthropod succession in region of Brasília and has
are scarce in the literature of the Neotropical region. Dunn contacted the other laboratories of Forensic Entomology in
(1916) reported Hermetia illuscens (L.), a stratiomyid in Brazil, but unfortunately this centre also has no permission
Panama; Pessôa and Lane (1941) presented previous records to follow the real cases of crimes.
and reviewed necrophilous Scarabaeidae from museums in Thyssen et al. (2005) assessed the usefulness of
Brazil; Jirón et al. (1982) and Jirón & Solano (1988) gave polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length
information on Calliphoridae, Sarcophagidae, Muscidae and polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) in the differentiation of two
Stratiomyidae of Costa Rica. Recently, some experimental species of forensic entomology importance. Two specific
studies of forensic entomology have been carried out in regions of mitochondrial DNA, the Cytochrome oxidase
different regions of Colombia (Wolff & Uribe 2000). In Cali, subunit I (COI) and the control region (CR), were amplified
Olaya (1999) determined the arthropod succession and the by PCR and digested using restriction endonucleases. The
rates of decomposition in dogs, but apparently no specific cleavage patterns generated by the endonucleases DraI and
identifications of insects found on human bodies have been SspI were suitable for differentiating the two Hemilucilia
published. species. This method can be helpful for the forensic
In Argentina, some descriptive reports on cadaveric insects entomologist in estimating the PMI because it provides a
have been published (Mariluis 1983, Mariluis et al. 1989), fast identification, also making possible the use of the insect
but up to now, no attempt was made to determine faunal at any life stage, including immature specimens, regardless
of the conditions of preservation (dead or live specimens).
associations related to stages of decomposition. Then, Centeno
et al. (2002) compared decay stages and cadaveric fauna on
sheltered pig carcasses, for each season of the year.
The Challenges of Forensic Entomology in Brazil
In spite of some efforts in divulge the works of Forensic
Forensic Entomology in Brazil Entomology among scientists, there are some problems that
must be solved to improve and raise this area in Brazil.
Until several years ago, Forensic Entomology had received An admissible death investigation requires the combined
January-February 2006 Neotropical Entomology 35(1) 7

efforts and cooperation of experts in different disciplines, entomology (http://www.eafe.org). There are international
crime scene technicians, death investigators, forensic attempts as standardization and quality assessment of the
pathologists, anthropologists, entomologists, other medical techniques and methodologies. It can be hoped that in future
and non-medical professionals. All these front-line experts forensic entomology will play an even more important role
play a crucial role in every death investigation process. in the elucidation of acts of crime.
Unfortunately, not all these disciplines are always In spite of the problems in countries from South America,
represented. They may become involved during the course the precise estimation of PMI is the most important goal of
of the investigation depending on the procedures adopted forensic entomology by refining the techniques used.
by medico-legal jurisdiction, on the nature of the case and Developmental and succession data, consideration of a
the need for verification of essential evidence (Campobasso greater number of geographical regions and a range of death
& Introna 2001, Von Zuben 2002). scene scenarios are essential.
When insects are found on the body, samples must be One of the most important challenges is to combine
collected in conjunction with other biological evidence. Even experimental data and practical case work. Due to the wide
if the important role of insects in human decay is well known, variations in biotic and abiotic factors which occur at death
unfortunately the medical training and experience of forensic scenes, an improvement of the existing understanding can
pathologists usually do not fully prepare them to extract all only be established trough an increased number of detailed
of the available information from arthropods. For many and quantified observations. Forensic entomologists are
years, maggots crawling on dead bodies were considered always presented with the task of reconstructing the death
just another disgusting element of decay; something to be scene conditions as closely as possible. A model for the
rinsed away as soon as the body was placed on the table for calculation and handling of the data is crucial for the
autopsy (Campobasso & Introna 2001). credibility of this discipline (Amendt et al. 2000).
Specific collecting techniques and standard procedures
in different environments at the death scene, at the autopsy Acknowledgments
and in the laboratory have been developed to enhance the
recovery of insect specimens. Respecting the different Thanks are due to Iracema Monteiro da Silva and
disciplines and competences, in our opinion, the complex Guilherme Gomes for collecting the data and to Regina Lúcia
ecology of the decay process and the role played by insects Sugayama for the opportunity. Leonardo Gomes has been
suggest that the collection and interpretation of entomological supported by fellowships from FAPESP (03/00540-3) and
evidence associated with dead bodies should be done Cláudio José Von Zuben by research fellowships from CNPq.
preferably by both the forensic entomologist and pathologist
correlating circumstantial information and findings noted at References
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