Forensic entomology history, what it studies and importance

Anthony Golden

The forensic entomology is that science that is in charge of studying the populations of insects and arthropods (invertebrate animals with an external skeleton and appendages with joints) that inhabit a corpse.

The main objective of this study is to establish the amount of time that passed since a human being or any living organism died until the moment it was found..

Pudding4brains [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The type of insects that inhabit the corpse, its reproduction pattern and the evacuation of the body, allow making vital contributions to establish the conditions in which the person lost his life.

In addition, the professional of this science must take into account environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, the conditions in which the body was buried and the type of clothing that the corpse had..

Forensic entomology makes it possible to make a contribution to legal investigations that is of great importance in uncovering the conditions in which a death occurred.

Article index

  • 1 History
    • 1.1 First observations
  • 2 What does forensic entomology study?
    • 2.1 The forensic analysis behind entomology
    • 2.2 Urban forensic entomology
    • 2.3 Entomology of stored products
    • 2.4 Forensic medico-legal entomology
  • 3 Importance
    • 3.1 Important contributions for criminal investigations
  • 4 References


First observations

It is presumed that the first analysis corresponding to forensic entomology was carried out in China. It happened during the 13th century, with the publication of a written document that related a case solved thanks to this science..

At the end of 1880, exhumations of insects and other arthropods were carried out, which was one of the first observations made of these animal species that were recorded in the world. These analyzes took place in Germany and France.

Years later, a book by Jean Pierre M├ęgnin was published, which dealt with the applied aspects of forensic entomology. His document allowed the concept to spread rapidly in countries like Canada and the United States; in addition, it laid the foundations of this science.

Researchers at the time realized that the lack of systematic observations of insects precluded the use of these animals for forensic science. The different species of insects were not well classified, which negatively influenced the development of forensic entomology.

The problem was solved years later with advances in entomology. More classifications of insects emerged, helping forensic science immensely.

What does forensic entomology study?

The forensic analysis behind entomology

Forensic entomology is the science that is dedicated to the study of populations of arthropods or insects in terms of their pattern of development, proliferation and abandonment in a corpse.

This analysis makes it possible to establish a criterion on the amount of time that elapses from when a living being died until the moment in which it was found..

This science allows studying the biology of insects and arthropods (among which are arachnids, centipedes, millipedes and crustaceans) in cases that have a criminal connotation and that require a legal investigation.

Although forensic entomology is applied mainly in investigations related to the death of a person, it is also often used to determine the presence of drugs or poisons in the system of a living being.

In addition, it helps to establish the location of an incident and determine when the injuries present in a corpse occurred.

This science has three fundamental subfields: urban forensic entomology, that of stored products and medico-legal..

Urban forensic entomology

Known as one of the subfields of this science, urban forensic entomology is responsible for investigating pest infestations in areas of a building. It is usually used to study the content of canned products, and determine the distribution chain of each product.

In addition, this type of study also allows evaluating the effectiveness or suitability of some pesticide treatments.

Entomology of stored products

As its name indicates, the entomology of stored products can be used in cases of stored products infested by a pest, determining at what point the article was externally affected by living organisms..

This type of investigation takes place when a legal problem arises due to the infestation of insects or the contamination of food that is distributed commercially..

Forensic medico-legal entomology

The third subfield of science, known as forensic medico-legal entomology, allows an analysis of the arthropods that are part of the evidence gathered in cases of murders, suicides, rapes, physical abuse or trafficking..

In particular, the investigation revolves around the type of insects that appear on the corpse in homicide cases. The type of eggs in the corpse, their location in the victim's body and the order in which they appear in that place are also analyzed..

This investigation is capable of collecting the necessary evidence to determine the amount of time that elapsed since a person died until the moment in which they were found; that is, it allows to establish a post mortem interval (PMI, for its acronym in English).

This analysis is possible because many insects appear in certain specific places, or only during a certain temperature. The appearance of insects, in combination with other evidence, can provide relevant information about the place and time the event occurred.

In addition, forensic medico-legal entomology leads to investigations into the influence of certain medications or substances on the death of the victim.


Important contributions for criminal investigations

In addition to analyzing the post-mortem interval of a corpse, the study of insect populations through forensic entomology also makes it possible to determine any change in the position of the corpse. When there is more evidence, it is possible to find the causes that led to his death.

The participation of professionals in this area in criminal investigations is increasingly frequent. His work has become a complement to those conventional means used in forensic investigations..

Detailed analysis of insect populations also makes it possible to determine where the crime was committed. This is due to the variation of the species depending on their habitat and the environmental conditions in which they are found.

The force that forensic entomology has taken in criminal investigations has generated the need to expand the knowledge of this science. This has increased its applications in forensic medicine..


  1. A brief history of forensic entomology, Portal NCBI, (2001). Taken from
  2. Forensic entomology, Encyclopedia Britannica editors, (n.d.). Taken from
  3. Forensic entomology, Wikipedia in English, (n.d.). Taken from
  4. The use of insects in forensic investigations: An overview on the scope of forensic entomology, Portal NCBI, (2011). Taken from ncbi.nlm.nih.gob
  5. Forensic Entomologist Job Description, Portal Crime Scene Investigator Resources, (n.d.). Taken from

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