Insects Found in Coffins

In Europe, mass exhumations carried out during the nineteenth century provide basic knowledge with respect to necrophagous insects developing on buried bodies (Table 13.4).

In France, Mégnin (1894) described a succession on buried cadavers with predominance of Dipterans (Muscidae: Ophyra spp., Phoridae undetermined) during the first year and Coleopterans (Staphylinidae: Philonthus sp., Rhizophagidae) during the second year. Motter (1898) reported a study of 150 disinterments in the vicinity of Washington. Among the population of arthropods collected, he identified many species actually considered forensically interesting such as Dipteran (Phoridae: Phora clavata Loew, Conicera sp.; Muscidae: Compsomyia macellaria Fabricius; Lucilia caesar2 Linné, Anthomyidae: Homalomyia sp., Ophyra leucos-toma3 Wiedemann, Sepsidae: Piophila casei4 Linné and Stratiomyidae), Coleopterans (mainly Staphylinidae: Atheta sp., Actobius poederoides Lec., Homalota sp., Lathrobium simile Lec., Staphylinus cinnamopterus Gravenhorst, Poederus lit-torarius Gravenhorst, Philonthus sp., Eleusis pallida Lec., Actobius umbripennis Lec.). Hymenopterans and Acari were also collected during this study.

Other studies on human bodies had been carried out. Bourel et al. published in 2004 observations on 22 exhumed cadavers in the Lille area (North of France). Such exhumations were requested by legal authorities in order to have the conclusion of a second expert in case of suspected death. On burial ranging between 2 and 29 months at about 2 m deep, authors identified 10 species of insects dominated by Dipterans, especially Muscidae (Hydrotaea capensis) Phoridae (Conicera tibialis, Leptocera caenosa, Megaselia rufipes, Triphleba hyalinata) and Fanniidae (Fannia manicata and F scalaris). Regarding Coleopterans, Staphylinidae, individuals of Philonthus sp., also described by Mégnin and Leclercq, and Omalium rivulare were identified. A single species of open air cadaver was observed (Calliphora vicina) on a corpse exhumed after 3 months. Although the presence of some of these species may help to confirm a confinement of the body, authors logically confessed that it was hard to estimate the period of burial or PMI with these studies (definition of generation, end of life cycle, temperature prediction).

Merritt et al. (2007) reported a cold case with a cadaver that was exhumed 28 years after death from a cemetery in Michigan. The body had been embalmed and buried at 6 ft (unsealed casket and unsealed cement vault). Authors confirmed that the vault rested 1.8 m below at the base and had 1.2-1.5 m of soil on top. The predominant group identified belonged to collembolan (thousands of specimens). Workers wrote that the moist soil conditions at this depth explained their abundance. A Diptera species, Conicera tibialis (Phoridae), known to produce several generations

2 Calliphoridae

3 Muscidae

4 Piophilidae and mate inside the coffin, was identified. A large number of Acari (Glycyphagidae) were collected too.

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