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The Utility of Blow Fly (Diptera: Calliphoridae) Evidence from Burned Human Remains

NCJ Number
Forensic Science International Volume: 356 Issue: 111962 Dated: March 2024
Date Published
March 2024

The authors of this paper present information about their empirical study of burned human remains, offering novel data that can be applied to real-world forensic cases involving burned human remains that have been colonized by forensically important anthropods; they describe their the research methodology, findings, and conclusions, and they discuss the utility of thermal imaging in locating larval masses obscured by charred tissue.


Burning of human remains is a common method to conceal or destroy evidence associated with homicides and illegal activities. However, data regarding blow fly colonization of burned remains are scarce, with all previously published empirical studies focusing only on non-human animals. It is critically important to obtain basic data on blow fly colonization patterns of burned human remains as such evidence may represent the only feasible method for PMI estimation in cases of burning. In this study, the authors thermally altered six human donors to a Crow-Glassman Scale Level 3 (CGS-3) and placed them at the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee in Summer 2021, Spring 2022, and Summer 2022. Six unburned human donors were used as controls. Observations for insect activity began within 24 hours of placement and continued twice weekly through decomposition. Age estimations were performed with immature blow flies to estimate the time of colonization (TOC), and accuracy was assessed against the time of placement for each donor. All burned donors examined in this study were colonized by blow flies. No significant difference in species composition was determined between treatments, though TOC estimations from burned donors were slightly (but significantly) less accurate than TOC estimations from unburned donors (80 percent vs. 83 percent accuracy; χ2 = 0.041, df = 1, P = 0.840). These results indicate that blow flies can successfully colonize human remains burned to CGS-3 and that accurate TOC estimations can still be generated from larval specimens. Though several limitations to this study exist (e.g., inconsistent donor BMI, lack of donor temperature data), the authors’ results underscore the utility of entomological evidence in cases of burned human remains. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: March 1, 2024