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Entomotoxicology: Insects as Toxicological Indicators and the Impact of Drugs and Toxins on Insect Development

Posted in Forensic Entomology & DNA Barcoding by paibiopai on January 23, 2011

Careful analyses of the community of insects encountered on a decomposing body, combined with knowledge of insect biology, ecology, and local environmental conditions can often provide valuable forensic insights. These can include the estimation of time since death, movement of the remains after death, indication of antemortem injuries, and the presence of drugs or toxins.
Over the past 2 decades, there has been an apparent increase in the incidence of drug related deaths reported within the U.S. and other countries. Decedents in such cases are, in many instances, not discovered for a substantial period of time (days or weeks). The
resulting state of advanced decomposition and environmental recycling typically encountered in these situations often dictates the employment of various entomological methodologies. The entomological techniques most frequently utilized are based on comprehensive analyses of the insects and other arthropods associated with the remains, their development, and patterns of succession.

The accuracy of entomological estimates in deaths involving narcotic intoxication has been subject to debate in recent years as few available studies have explored the effects of drugs contained in decomposing tissues on fly colonization and ovipositional behavior, or on the rates of development of carrion-frequenting insects feeding on such food sources. Additionally, relatively few studies have examined the effects of other tissue contaminants, such as toxins or environmental pollutants, on these behaviors and/or the developmental patterns of the insects colonizing such tissues.

In recent years, interest also has focused on the potential use of carrion-frequenting insects as alternative toxicological specimens in situations where traditional toxicological sources, such as blood, urine, or solid tissues, are unavailable or not suitable for analysis.
The use of anthropophagic fly larvae (maggots) as alternate toxicological specimens is well documented in the entomological and forensic science literature. Detection of various toxins and controlled substances in insects found on decomposing human remains has contributed to the assessment of both cause and manner of death. With the development of hair extraction technologies, attention has recently focused on the analysis of chitinized insect remnants that are frequently encountered with mummified and skeletonized remains. In such cases, the standard toxicological specimens are often absent. Studies of the use of carrion-feeding arthropods as alternative toxicological specimens and of the impact that tissue toxins and contaminants have on the development of immature insects feeding on these substances currently comprise the major avenues of exploration in the emerging field of entomotoxicology.


Ref: Goff and Lord, 2001


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