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Fauna of Corpses

Insects are attracted to decomposing bodies. They approach the bodies in a fixed, predictable order. Some species arrive soon after death; other species will only appear when decomposition is further advanced. The ‘Fauna of corpses’, dating back to 1952, groups species of insects together based upon that order. Forensic investigators continue to use this method in order to reconstruct the timing and circumstances of death.
  • Date: 1952
  • Location: Ghent, Belgium
  • Collection: Zoology
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Forensic entomologists use their knowledge of insects to help the police solve murder cases.

How do insects help with police investigations?

Forensic entomologists use their knowledge of insects to help the police solve murder cases. For example, they know the most common insects, the environment they prefer to live in, when they settle on a corpse and how long it takes for their eggs to hatch. They can use this precise biological knowledge to reconstruct the time and circumstances of death, among other things.

What stages do insects on a corpse pass through?

Very soon after a person’s death, the body starts to emit a specific scent. This attracts species of insects – often flies – that lay their eggs on the body, usually in wounds or natural body orifices. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the dead flesh. Once they are big enough, they ‘migrate’ away from the body to pupate. There are nine species of flies in Belgium that forensic entomologists can use in their investigations.

What is the Laboratory for Forensic Medicine?

After the founding of Ghent University in 1817, all autopsies were done at the Faculty of Medicine. In 1885, a Laboratory for Forensic Medicine was founded specifically for forensic autopsies. In 1905, the laboratory moved to the Rommelaere Complex, where the forensic physician and coroner Frédéric Thomas (1906-1986) headed the forensic medicine department for most of the twentieth century. In 2015, the laboratory moved again, to the University Hospital this time.

What is the difference between a clinical and medico-legal autopsy?

A post mortem or clinical autopsy is carried out by a pathologist and its purpose is to clarify uncertainties about the (natural) cause of death. If there is a suspicion that the person was the victim of a crime, a forensic pathologist is called in. He or she conducts a medico-legal autopsy to discover the ‘unnatural’ cause of death and collect any other evidence that might be found on the body.

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