Wild CSI

Illustration by Angie Wang
Date:21 November 2012 Tags:, , , ,

Forensic investigators use any information they can to solve crimes, including the clues generated by birds, plants and insects interacting with human corpses. Increasingly, specialists in natural-science fields are adapting their research to better support police. It’s grim, necessary work that helps to identify corpses, determine if foul play was involved, and catch criminals. Here are some new post-mortem science studies that bring more certainty to crime scenes. – Sarah Fecht

Vulture variability

Scavenging by vultures can make it extremely dif cult for forensic scientists to estimate time of death. One study found that it took 37 days for a flock of vultures to discover a human corpse that had been laid out in an experimental enclosure but only 5 hours to strip the body down to a pile of bones. Researchers are using GPS to discern patterns in the way vultures scatter remains.

Bug spray

Insect repellents can keep bugs off a body, even after death. New research shows that when pig carcasses are doused with DEET, they attract fewer bugs and decompose more slowly, which could cause forensic entomologists to underestimate a person’s time of death by several days.

Green grave markers

Digging a grave may alter nearby plants, says a new study. Although the presence of a buried body doesn’t appear to affect which types of plants grow above a grave, upturned soil favours plants that are good at colonising disturbed areas. These clues might be useful in the search for buried bodies.

The nose knows

Cadaver-sniffing dogs are often trained using pig remains, but a new study reveals that the volatile organic compounds (aka odours) produced by decaying pigs are signi cantly different from the odours of decaying human bodies.

Decomposed chicken carcasses were actually a closer match to humans. The findings could help scientists devise more effective training aids for the dogs.

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